Egypt emergency law condemned

2010-05-11 18:10

Cairo - Human Rights Watch (HRW) and supporters of high-profile dissident Mohamed ElBaradei on Tuesday condemned Egypt's extension of a decades-old state of emergency, saying new restrictions on its application were merely cosmetic.

Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif earlier asked parliament to renew the emergency law for a further two years, pledging to limit the extraordinary powers it gives authorities to cases of terrorism and narcotics.

"The government has stated repeatedly that it would limit the emergency law's use to narcotics and terrorism. This isn't a new position," HRW's Heba Morayef told AFP in Cairo.

"The government's track record gives little reason for optimism for a shift in attitude," she said.

But the fact the government felt the need to address the issue of the law's application is a "sign that they feel under pressure, knowing that extending the emergency law makes them look bad".

New look, old law

The law which has been in place since the assassination of president Anwar Sadat in 1981, gives police wide powers of arrest, suspends constitutional rights and curbs non-governmental political activity.

Egypt's authorities have used the state of emergency to clamp down on political opponents, including the country's largest opposition movement, the banned Muslim Brotherhood, whose members sit in parliament as independents.

"It's just a new look for the old emergency law," said George Ishak, a senior member of the National Assembly for Change led by ElBaradei, a former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The law "will still be used against the opposition because authorities can accuse any of them of terrorism," he told AFP.

"We have lived under an emergency for 30 years and we want a normal life. If the goal is really to preserve security, there is a criminal code in place for this," he said.