The Egyptian government is often forced to recognize past abuses in the course of putting a pretty face on future ones, as aptly illustrated by a presidential decree issued on May 11 that extended the State of Emergency for another two years. This time, the Prime Minister and parliamentarians with the ruling party swore that the Emergency Law would only be applied in terrorism and drug cases, implicitly admitting that it has been applied much more broadly over the last 29 years, despite repeated denials by the government. Indeed, human rights organizations have issued thousands of statements covering abuses of the Emergency Law in Egypt, and arbitrary arrest and detention has become a de facto policy—one that is visible every day in the thousands of detainees held in Egyptian detention facilities without charge or trial, and in flagrant breach of court release orders.
The Egyptian government most recently recognized this in its report to the UN Human Rights Council in November 2009. Discussing the State of Emergency, the report noted that “When issuing and extending the declaration of the State of Emergency, the political authorities have always pledged to refrain from using their emergency powers except to deal with terrorism and drugs offences, and they have kept their pledge. This is a political pledge and the Government would have to answer to Parliament if it were to utilize exceptional measures.”
That is, the Egyptian government claimed in November 2009 that the Emergency Law is only brought to bear in terrorism and drug crimes, and now in May 2010, the government states that it will extend the law on the condition that it is only applied in terrorism and drug crimes. In practical terms, this means more emergency in Egypt, more arrests, more restrictions on liberties and more obstructions of the law and Constitution.
To deflect accusations of attempted mind-reading or cynicism or claims that we are denying the government the chance to prove its good intentions, we refer to the presidential decree that was trumpeted by the official press, the ruling party and the ruling party’s parliamentary majority as marking the beginning of the process of democratization (which the regime has repeatedly boasted is already underway). The decree states that emergency provisions shall be limited to Article 3 (1) and (5) of the Emergency Law. Article 3 (1) permits “restrictions on the freedom of persons to assembly, movement, residence and passage in certain places or times; the arrest and detention of suspects or those representing a danger to public security and order; and the search of persons and places without regard for provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure.” It should be noted that these provisions are applied based on suspicion alone, not pursuant to a proven crime. In a press statement, Dr. Mufid Shehab, the chair of the UPR report ministerial committee, said yesterday that the application of the Emergency Law in its “new” form will be limited to “the arrest and detainment of persons suspected of involvement in crimes of terrorism or drug trafficking, and the search of persons and places suspected of involvement in these crimes.” In effect, this means that provisions in Article 3 (1) and (5) of the Emergency Law will be applied to “suspects”.
The undersigned organizations wish to draw the attention of the Egyptian public and the international community to the fact that the presidential decree, the Prime Minister’s statement and the debates of the majority party in the People’s Assembly involved nothing less than “a two-year extension of the Emergency Law,” which was the unambiguous phrase used by the Speaker of the Assembly when closing the session on 11 May. We believe that there is a clear connection between the renewed suspension of the law and the Constitution and the series of elections slated in the country over the next two years. In connection with the first of these elections, the Shura Council vote of June 2010, we are already witnessing abuses, and we expect these to increase as parliamentary elections draw near, which will pave the way for a transfer of power in 2011, whether the scenario involves the ruling family, the military or a party.
The undersigned organizations reject the ongoing application of the Emergency Law and reiterate that they will continue to work for the observance of human rights in Egypt, prosecution of human rights abusers and support of those denied these rights. We shall continue to monitor these abuses, fully aware that true change will come with the lifting of the State of Emergency; guarantees for freedom of expression, association, opinion, assembly, demonstration and strike; the release of all political and non-political detainees; the trial of civilians before their natural judge; and guarantees for clean elections at every level ensured by full judicial supervision.
Until then, any attempt to change, mask or manipulate the letter of the law cannot hide the plain fact that this country has lived under Emergency Law for 29 years and that the ruling party just extended that to 31 years.
1. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.
2. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression.
3. Association for Human Rights Legal Aid.
4. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
5. Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services.
6. Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement.
7. Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights.
8. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
9. Group for Human Rights Legal Aid.
10. Hisham Mubarak Law Center.
11. Land Center for Human Rights.
12. Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence.
13. New Woman Foundation.