Egypt’s ruling military council pledged to continue its oversight of security even after the expiry of the state of emergency, which was set to elapse today after nearly three decades.
The military council said its vow comes “as a result of its national and historic duty,” the state-run website Ahram Gate reported. Renewing the state of emergency would require the government or the military council to submit a request to parliament, the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper reported today citing lawmaker Sobhi Saleh. If the assembly approved the request, the decision would then be put to a referendum, it cited Saleh as saying.
“This is a significant change because the emergency law in our view is a main tool for human rights violations,” Hafez Abuseada, president of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, said by phone after the military statement. “For the Egyptian citizens who have been ruled by the emergency law for about 30 years, this means freedom. I don’t think this could have happened without the revolution.”
Termination would mark the effective end of one of Hosni Mubarak’s most reviled legacies - the implementation of a law that gave authorities sweeping powers to limit freedom of expression and to detain individuals for months without due process. Lifting the state of emergency has been a core demand of the protesters who ousted Mubarak last year.
“The regime wasn’t able to rule without the emergency law because it had no popularity,” Abuseada said. “To ensure its survival, the regime had to suppress opposition figures, journalists, parties and civil society groups.”
Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi on Jan. 24 said the state of emergency would be partially lifted the following day, except for crimes of “thuggery.”
The legislation under which the measures were implemented was reintroduced in 1981 after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat.
The military’s pledge, in part, reflects the ruling generals’ long-standing view that they are the guardians of the country, Anthony Skinner, head of the Middle East practice at political risk consultancy Maplecroft, said by phone from London. It also reflects their determination not to see Egypt turn into a theocracy as the Muslim Brotherhood pushes for the presidency after Islamists won control of parliament, he said.
“They need to have a number of tools on the table they can actually use to safeguard their specific interests,” he said. “Of course, they are fully aware that civil society at large is tracking very carefully whether they are holding to their promises in terms of improving human security and the violations and abuses we have seen.”
Since Mubarak’s ouster, tensions have increased between activists and the military council whom they accuse of mismanaging the transition and employing Mubarak-era tactics to stifle dissent. The council has pledged to hand power to civilians by the end of June, when a civilian president is to have been elected.