The Emergency Law needs to go

"No To Emergency"

Tomorrow is is set to be the "Friday of Deafening Silence," the latest in "million-man" protests to take place since Hosni Mubarak was deposed on February 11. Yes, it's a silly name. But this could be one of the more important protests that has taken place in a while.

Unfortunately, the picture has been muddied by last week's break-in at the Israeli embassy and the raids on interior ministry facilities, which are in part reported to have been attempts at destroying criminal records, etc. Considering the rather surprising reaction to the embassy incident — almost unanimous condemnation by political parties, activist groups, media figures, etc. including many Islamists of the embassy break-in and the other events of the day —  the current atmosphere is somewhat confused. On the one hand, last week's incidents have really driven home the need (and perhaps even more importantly, the public's desire) for greater order, and the difficult task of simultaneously empowering the ministry of interior to do its job and reforming it. 

The ruling SCAF's reaction to the events, though, are a turn more dramatic and dangerous than the embassy break-in itself. The SCAF has decided not only to reinstate the full force of the Emergency Law Mubarak and his police used to rule for 30 years, but also Mubarak-like restrictions on media and other sundry measures, such as criminalizing (again, under the Emergency Law) "attacks on freedom of work". At a time when workers' movements are gathering in a steadily growing number of strikes (teachers, postal workers, etc.) to insure that the social part of the revolution makes gains, it is plain that SCAF is using the embassy incident to advance a draconian security agenda. Combined with the lingering debate over the electoral law, the lack of clarity on the transition process (notably suggestions that SCAF may handpick the members of a constituent assembly and the lack of a date for the presidential elections) and the unresolved question of the use of military tribunals (which may be replaced under the emergency law by "Emergency Courts" which are equally problematic), one gets the sense of "Mubarakism without Mubarak." 

Tomorrow's protest may suffer from the "protest fatigue" the Egyptian public is starting to feel, but it's important to keep the pressure on SCAF and attempt to reverse the re-legitimization of the Emergency Law, which perhaps after the Mubaraks were the key target of the opposition movement in recent years.

The statement below, released by the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession, and echoed by many NGOs, shows the extent of the SCAF's restrictions on freedoms of association, speech and more. It makes the excellent point that some of the points addressed that have the public's support — such as carjacking or drug-dealing — are already criminalized under the normal penal code. So the SCAF appears to be using these to give themselves legal cover to attack work stoppages, strikes, and media freedom.  

Amendments to the emergency law is a threat to public rights and freedoms in Egypt

The Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession (ACIJLP) expresses its deep concern over the activation of the emergency law and the amendments issued by the Military Council under resolution No. (139) of the year 2011 to amend certain provisions of 2010’s presidential decree No. 126, which concerns the emergency law in Egypt. Such decree includes the application of the provisions resulting from announcing the state of emergency on the following cases:

  • Facing internal tensions
  • participating in or funding terrorism, harming national security and public system of the country
  • possession of weapons and ammunition and trafficking on it
  • Importing and exporting drugs and the drug
  • criminalization of thuggish acts
  • attacks on freedom of work
  • sabotaging facilities
  • blocking traffic and road closures
  • publishing or broadcasting false news and rumors

ACIJLP points out that the former regime with all its tyrannical acts did not dare when modifying the emergency law to include all these criminal acts and reasons behind the application of the provisions of the Emergency Law. The former regime added to decree No. 126 of 2010 concerning the renewal of the State of emergency until 2012 only two criminals acts “facing the dangers of terrorism and funding it and Importing and exporting drugs and the drug trade”.

ACIJLP believes that this decision was contrary to the Constitutional Declaration promulgated on February 13 2011, the international Covenants and the Egyptian Government commitments and its national legislation, particularly the Egyptian Emergency Law No. 162 of 1958 which determined exclusively the reasons and justifications which enable the President of the Republic to impose and declare a State of emergency. Such reasons, including but not limited to, should not be expanded to respect law: A war or a threatening situation, internal tensions, public disaster and epidemics.

In addition to the foregoing regarding the violation of the decision to extend the State of emergency for constitutional and legal foundations, it has retained the most serious measures on rights and freedoms and calla for its activation and application particularly, the two measures (1) and (5) of article III of the emergency law which gives the Interior Minister extremely dangerous powers on the rights and freedoms, namely: putting restrictions on the freedom of persons on the meeting, movement and residence, putting restrictions on the freedom of persons to travel in certain places and times, arresting suspected persons or those who cause harm to public Security and system, allowing the inspection of persons and places without complying with the provisions of the code of criminal procedure and forcing any person to perform any action.

Such dangerous powers make the talk about ensuring any of the rights and fundamental freedoms is empty of content because the powers conferred by law No. 162 of 1958 to the President of the Republic in a State of emergency – and recently to the Military Council- stricken these guarantees and make it invalid as a good basis for the principle of legality and the rule of law. Moreover, the decision does not determine the punishable crimes in violation of the principle of legality of offences and penalties, which require the formulation of penal provisions in a clear specific way without ambiguity. Such provisions should not be obstacles by the legislator to punish any person.

One of the most astonishing matters is that crimes reported by the decision are law-governed crimes and do not require to be criminalized by an exceptional law such as the Egyptian Emergency law which played a major role in violating many rights and freedoms applied and widely recognized. Such rights should be protected by Egypt according to the international covenants and Conventions, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and political rights, ratified by Egypt on 14th January 1982 and entered into force on 15th April of the same year. The right to freedom of opinion and expression, the right to peaceful assembly and right to strike are also affected by such resolution. In addition to, violating the guarantees of fair trial and the independence of the judiciary.

The ACIJLP expresses its concern about the activation of the emergency law and the reasons for the expansion of its provisions. Therefore, the ACIJLP calls upon the Egyptian government and the military council to undo this decision, out of respect for the rights, public freedoms and to fulfill the Egyptian commitments and international obligations.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.