Govt proposes ‘limited version’ of Emergency Law

Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif has formally asked parliament to extend the Emergency Law for another two years, adding new legal restrictions on both its scope and application.

The prime minister spoke today before the People’s Assembly, and requested its approval of a modified emergency law. He also reiterated the government’s commitment to passing a balanced counter-terrorism law and to lifting the state of emergency once this is achieved.

The proposed new law will lift some of the sweeping powers granted to the government under Article 3 of the older version: telephone surveillance, media censorship, shutting down publishing houses and broadcasters, property confiscation, and tightly controling the use of public space.

On the other hand, the new draft law extends government powers related specifically to terrorism and narcotics trafficking, including the authortity to arrest, search and detain suspected individuals, as well as the elimination of arms licenses and the confiscation of weapons and explosives.

The government insists that the modified law respects human rights. “This step shows the world that we are a state that respects its commitments in the area of human rights, and respects the rights and freedoms of its citizens,” said Nazif in his speech, according to a state press release.

Human rights activists see the proposed law as an important step toward permanently lifting the state of emergency in Egypt, but they remain worried that the Interior Ministry will not take the new decision seriously. “The new law is a good step if used fairly and if the emergency law is not extended in the future,” said Hafez Abu Saeda, head of the Cairo-based Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.

The proposed law is subject to review by the People’s Assembly within the next 15 days.

Article 148 of the Constitution allows the president to declare a state of emergency, upon consulting the Ministers’ Council, in cases where public order and security are threatened due to war, internal turmoil, disasters, or epidemics. The current Emergency Law allows the government to ban strikes, demonstrations and public meetings, censor or close down newspapers and other media, and monitor private correspondences and telephone calls. It also grants authorities the right to arrest and detain suspects without charge.  

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