Cairo plans to extend emergency laws

25 February 2003
President Mubarak has asked parliament to extend by a further three years Egypt's national emergency laws, which have been in force since the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat. The legislation, which has been denounced by civil rights groups, grants authorities the power to detain people deemed a threat to national security for 45-day renewable periods without charge. Civilians can also be tried by military tribunals. The laws nominally ban all public demonstrations, but carefully monitored public protests are commonly allowed at mosques and university campuses. Some 5,000 students staged rallies on 18 February to protest against a possible war in Iraq.

Due to expire on 31 May, the emergency legislation has been in place since 1967, with the exception of a brief 18-month hiatus in 1980/81. The laws have given the government considerable leeway in its crackdown on Islamist militant groups such as the Gamaat al-Islamiya, which was involved in both the assassination of Sadat and the massacre of tourists in Luxor in 1997. In a statement to parliament Prime Minister Atef Obeid urged 'the majority and opposition to approve the decision of the president to renew the emergency law,' saying it would 'not be used against the freedom of expression but to ensure the security of citizens'.

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