Wednesday’s papers: Emergency law–more of the same

Both state-owned and independent papers are dominated today by news of the People’s Assembly vote to extend by an additional two years the state of Emergency Law under which Egypt has been for three decades. According to the identical headlines in Al-Ahram and Al-Akhbar, the extended Emergency Law will “only be enforced in situations relating to terrorism and drug trafficking,” since new limitations restrict the Emergency Law during this period to terrorism and drugs trafficking crimes, with some further limitations on police powers.

The decision was reached by a vote between members of the People’s Assembly, in which 308 MPs voted for the extension, 101 against, and the remaining 45 abstained. Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif is quoted in both Al-Ahram and Al-Akhbar as defending the decision, explaining that the measures “were reluctantly taken by the government in an attempt to secure the nation.”

The president’s chief of staff, Zakaria Azmi, claims the change in martial law is nothing short of  “revolutionary” as it expresses an attempt to change the law for the country’s benefit. According to Azmi, who is quoted in Al-Ahram, drugs represent a “constant threat” to Egyptian youth–a problem which will be directly addressed by the change in the law, along with that of terrorism.

Also lending vocal support to the extension is Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Moufid Shehab, who, according to Al-Ahram, responded to allegations that the extension only exists to serve those already in power in the upcoming elections saying: “The elections are governed by their own exclusive laws,” Shehab explained, adding that there is no connection whatsoever between the protraction of the Emergency Law and the election process.

The amendments to the Emergency Law were also discussed by People’s Assembly speaker Fathi Sorour. A brief report on Al-Ahram’s front page promises “the release of all Emergency Law detainees by 1 June” in its headline, taken from a quote by Sorour. Political detainees who were arrested due to violations of the Emergency Law would subsequently be released by the changes made to the law, Sourour explained, adding “I am responsible for the legal interpretation of the changes made to the law.”

Independent papers, on the other hand, exhibit far less enthusiasm for the extension, as is evident in Al-Wafd’s headline, “Government repeats scenario for justification of Emergency Law extension for the 29th time!!” Beyond its summarization of the events detailed in state-owned papers, Al-Wafd’s report also includes the cries of protest that reportedly broke out among “the majority of MPs” immediately following the announcement of the decision. According to the state-owned paper PM Ahmed Nazif was interrupted at least ten times by chants from opposing MPs, describing the law as null and void. Eventually Fathi Sorour had to intervene, requesting that everyone present “behave like a member of parliament, and refrain from voicing their opinion until recognized.”

Al-Wafd also points out that Nazif, who, the paper says regularly walks to and from the parliamentary headquarters, has recently been making his trip by car, leading Al-Wafd to speculate that his reasons for doing so stem from a “fear of walking on foot past protesters,” groups of whom have been lining the sidewalks outside parliament for months now.

Al-Wafd also states, in a separate report, the Wafd party’s “rejection” of the emergency law extension, with party leader Mahmoud Abaza stating, “the Egyptian people are thirsty for freedom.” Abaza also expressed his belief that Egypt’s future should rest in the hands of its people, and not in those of a government sector, regardless of how essential or influential it might be.

Meanwhile, Al-Shorouq details the supposed real-life consequences of the law changes. According to the paper, “placing restrictions on freedoms of movement, assembly, and residency” are among the powers still retained by the government following changes to the Emergency Law, as is the right to search, arrest, and detain “suspicious-looking individuals.” However, clandestine monitoring of communications and the media, and the decision to shut down publishing houses and television broadcasting stations are no longer within the government’s power.”

Unrelated news sees yet another attempt to combat rapidly increasing meat prices, with the Social Fund for Development deciding to breed its own livestock–a decision it claims will “boost the nation’s wealth of animals,” according to a report in Al-Akhbar. Working in tandem with the Ministry of Agriculture, the Social Fund for Development as already chosen several plots of land in the Wadi el-Gedid area to be used as grazing grounds for the government-owned livestock.

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