Egypt holds off on ending curfew

2013-11-13 10:57

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Cairo - A court declared that Egypt's 3-month-old state of emergency expired on Tuesday, two days earlier than expected, but the military and security officials held off from implementing the ruling and lifting a night-time curfew, amid worries that the measures' end will fuel protests by supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.

Morsi, meanwhile, held his first extensive meeting with lawyers in a prison near the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. He had been held in secret military detention with almost no contact with the outside world since he was ousted in a July 3 popularly backed coup, but he was moved to a regular prison last week after the first session of his trial on charges of inciting murder.

The lawyers, who hail from the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, on Wednesday will relay a message from Morsi addressing the Egyptian people and "all parties," according to Morsi's son Osama, a lawyer who was among those who met him. The son told The Associated Press that his father is still refusing to allow any lawyer to represent him in the trial because he insists he remains president and does not recognize the tribunal.

The state of emergency and a nighttime curfew imposed along with it have been aimed at helping authorities tighten their security grip and control on near daily protests that frequently descended into violence by pro-Morsi supporters and his Muslim Brotherhood demanding his reinstatement and the reversal of what the call an illegal coup against democracy.

On Monday, Interior Minister Mahmoud Ibrahim, who heads the security forces, said the state of emergency would expire on Thursday and that security reinforcements would deploy in the streets at that time - a sign of the worries over intensified protests.

The surprise ruling by the Cairo Administrative Court ordering the lifting Tuesday appeared to have caught the government off guard - and authorities said they were not immediately implementing it until the court formally notifies them of the decision.

The confusion came because the state of emergency was initially announced for a month on Aug. 14. But the government renewed it for another two months on 12 September. The court said that means it ends on 12 November not 14 November.

Legislation on security

The Cabinet put out a statement saying it will abide by the ruling, but that it will wait for the details of the ruling to issue the verdict in writing. By Tuesday night, that had not occurred.

The military said that without official notification of the verdict, it was implementing the curfew as planned, at 01:00 on Wednesday. Military spokesperson Colonel Ahmed Mohammed Ali said in a statement that the military so far had not been "notified officially of any court ruling".

The state news agency also cited an unidentified high ranking Interior Ministry official saying the ministry has not received the court's ruling. It said security forces have started deploying to secure the Egyptian street.

It was not clear how binding the ruling is. The court said its decision came in response to a lawsuit questioning legality of the state of emergency, and the court rejected the lawsuit saying that it has already expired. A senior judge in the court, Abdel-Maguid al-Mouqanan, told the state news agency that the ruling doesn't obligate the government to put an end to the state of emergency.

US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement that the US welcomed the formal lifting of the state of emergency, but also took note of the fact the government is considering other legislation on security.

"We urge the government to respect the rights of all Egyptians," the statement said. "This includes ensuring that Egyptians on all sides can peacefully exercise their right to freedom of assembly and expression as well as ensuring due process and that all civilians arrested are referred only to civilian courts."

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed "the importance of respect for peaceful protest and freedom of assembly, and a commitment to dialogue and non-violence," the UN spokesperson  Martin Nesirky said.

"The secretary-general continues to underscore the need for political inclusion, respect for human rights, including of those in detention, and the rule of law as the basis for a peaceful, democratic transition in Egypt," Nesirky said, adding that "international human rights standards should form the basis of any new legislation".

Small gatherings

The state of emergency gives security forces wide powers of arrest. It was imposed after police broke up two pro-Morsi protest camps in a heavy crackdown that left hundreds of protesters dead. The country has seen persistent violence since, including further bloody crackdowns on protests, retaliatory violence blamed on Islamists, and a wave of attacks on churches, security forces and the military by Islamic militants, mainly in the Sinai Peninsula.

Under the crackdown, protests have mostly waned and have been reduced to small gatherings concentrated inside universities. On Tuesday, police forces entered Mansoura University, in the Nile Delta, after clashes erupted on the campus between Morsi supporters and other students.

In the latest in a wave of detentions of leading Brotherhood figures, security forces on Tuesday arrested Bassem Ouda, who served as supply minister under Morsi, while he was hiding inside a soap factory near the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the press.

Ouda joins a large number of Brotherhood leaders detained on charges of inciting violence in relation to clashes that took place before and after Morsi's ouster.

Fearing return of mass demonstrations, the military-backed interim government is working on a controversial new law that would restrict the right to protest by forcing organisers to seek a permit to hold any gathering — something authorities can deny if they see it threatening public order. Violators risk jail terms and heavy fines.

Presidential spokesperson Ihab Badawi said a final draft of the law has been sent to the presidency and will be passed shortly.

Earlier, Human Rights Watch and other groups condemned the law for it "effectively give the police carte blanche to ban protests in Egypt" and allows officers to use force to disperse them, "even when a single protester throws a stone."

Morsi’s trial

The law was first introduced during Morsi's one-year presidency, when it was also met with heavy criticism.

Morsi's trial is set to resume on 8 January. Some in the team of lawyers who met him are urging Morsi to allow legal representation in the trial.

But his son Osama said Morsi's "position has not changed after the meeting," which he described as "heated," without elaborating. The son said Mori was consulting with the legal team on measures he could take "against the coup."

The lawyers planned a press conference for Wednesday, when it appeared the statement that Morsi gave to them would be released.

Morsi"s only previous contact with lawyers was brief discussions during the first session of his trial, on Nov. 4.

At that session, Morsi repeatedly launched into political speeches, calling the proceedings illegitimate and saying the judges didn't have jurisdiction to try a president. He repeatedly insisted he remains the country's leader and called his trial a "cover for a military coup."

At the next session, Morsi is expected to tell the court whether he will accept the defence team.

Morsi and 14 co-defendants - seven of whom are still at large - are charged with inciting the killing of protesters who massed outside the presidential palace in December 2012 and demanded that he call off a referendum on a new Islamist-drafted constitution. Brotherhood members and supporters attacked a sit-in by the protesters, sparking clashes that left 10 people dead.

Morsi and the others are also accused of inciting Brotherhood supporters to illegally hold and abuse opponents in a makeshift detention centre outside the palace.

Read more on:    muslim brotherhood  |  mohammed morsi  |  us  |  egypt  |  north africa

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