Egyptian Junta Maintains "Thuggery" Clause

January 27, 2012  

When military leaders in Egypt announced they had lifted Cairo’s emergency law, earlier this week, they neglected to mention they left themselves a loophole.

Rights activists say Cairo’s interim junta left itself a loophole for police to continue to use exceptional powers to arrest and detain civilians without cause, which they describe as “thuggery”.

The controversial emergency law – which has been in place since Islamists assassinated president Anwar Sadat in 1981 – had been regularly exercised under Mubarak’s rule as a means of authoritarian control.

The repeal of the emergency law was a principle demand of protests against Mubarak’s rule that erupted one year ago and ended with his ouster 18 days later.

The laws gave police broad powers to arrest and indefinitely detain subjects without warrants; makes gatherings illegal; and allows civilians to be tried in exceptional courts. It was often used to arrest and detain members and leaders of the then-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood is now the single most powerful political force in Egypt, and controls a plurality of seats in the new parliament with the aid of the ultra-conservative Salafist al-Nour party.

Nonetheless, the Brotherhood has signaled that it will not confront the military on this issue, with one leader saying on Wednesday that martial law is still necessary to maintain law and order in Egypt’s post-Mubarak transition.

Rights activists say ruling general Field Marshal Hussain Tantawi’s announcement that the emergency law had been lifted on Tuesday echoed Mubarak’s declaration in 2010 that the emergency law would only be applied in cases of terrorism and drug trafficking.

That promise was routinely violated, as police continued to use the law to arrest and detain anyone it chose.

“For us the state of emergency has not been lifted,” Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told Gulf News.

Lifting the law came under intense pressure not only from Egyptians, but from US lawmakers as well.

Lawmakers in Washington tied billions in promised foreign aid to Egypt to a condition that it transition to a civilian government which respected freedom of religion and human rights, and maintained the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.

Amid a deep economic crisis, Islamist parties have taken a pragmatic line towards Israel and are expected to do the same on other key issues as well.

In 2011 Egypt burned through over half of its foreign currency reserves, lost close to 10 billion USD in investment capital that fled the country, and saw soaring unemployment that persists in the present.

Egypt has also seen a 30% drop in its key tourism industry due to the pervasive unrest that has characterized the country for the past year.

How U.S. lawmakers will react to the “thuggery” clause remaining operative in Egypt remains to be seen.

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