Three More Years of Oppressive Emergency Rule

Press Release

24 February 2003

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) today expressed its deep disappointment at the approval by People's Assembly yesterday of a presidential decree that renewed the Emergency Law for three more years. The organization found particularly dismaying the way in which the government had surprisingly and abruptly passed the bill within 12 hours of its proposition.

The renewal bill was proposed to Parliament more than three months before the expiration of the state of emergency, imposed almost uninterruptedly since 1967, in a blunt attempt to block any activities by civil society to prevent the renewal of the notorious law.

The EIPR also condemned the political opportunism of the government and its abuse of the 11-September attacks with the fear-ridden atmosphere that followed them and the US-declared "war on terrorism" to justify its own oppressive policies. "It is shameful for any regime to exploit a tragedy that cost about 3,000 human souls to justify committing other forms of terrorism against its own people," said Hossam Bahgat, Program director of the EIPR.

The explanatory memorandum distributed by the government at Parliament yesterday reportedly stated that "the Emergency Law is the haven and defense shield that should not scare the ordinary citizen, but rather should be feared [only] by corrupt and cruel groups." The EIPR finds this claim absurd and repellant. Local and international human rights groups have for years documented violations resulting from the Emergency Law no. 162 of 1958 of the rights of "ordinary citizens" to life, privacy, freedom and security of person, protection from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and fair trial, including the right to counsel. The law has also imposed severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association and information.

The EIPR drew attention to the important verdict passed last week by the Administrative Court concerning the right to demonstration. The verdict stated that constitutionally guaranteed rights must not be restricted by laws, which should apply to all the aforementioned rights. In addition, the Supreme Constitutional Court is currently considering at least three appeals against the Emergency Law that might eventually lead to ridding the country of this unfair law.

Last November, the United Nations' Human Rights Committee expressed its concern over the fact that Egypt "has been in a semi-permanent state of emergency, contrary to article 4 of the [International] Covenant [on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)]," which became part of Egyptian domestic legislation upon its ratification at 1982. The same Committee had in 1981 issued a legally-binding interpretation of article 4 of the ICCPR, concerning the state of emergency, which stipulated that "measures taken under article 4 are of an exceptional and temporary nature and may only last as long as the life of the nation concerned is threatened and that, in times of emergency, the protection of human rights becomes all the more important."

The EIPR added that the government is mistaken to think that by abruptly renewing the state of emergency it can escape popular, judicial and international scrutiny. The organization reminded civil rights activists in Egypt that the campaign against emergency rule should continue as planned in order to make it impossible for the regime to escape domestic and international accusation of suppressing civil and political rights.

"We must learn from the lessons of the past and start today working against a possible renewal of the state of emergency in 2006," said Bahgat. "The authorities must be pushed to realize that the political price of another renewal of the Emergency Law would be too high for them to pay."