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Emergency Law

In 2000, after finally being cleared of all charges by the Egyptian supreme court,  my colleague the sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim told me that he had spent his seven months in prison interviewing other political prisoners. There were so many of them, from so many decades, that one could write the whole political history of modern Egypt from inside prison, he said.

How many political prisoners are there in Egypt? No one knows for sure. At least 17,000 people are detained under the law, and estimates of the total number of political prisoners runs as high as 30,000.

Under the Egyptian constitution, citizens are guaranteed freedom of association, the right to create civil organizations, the right of free expression, and the right to form new political parties. However, these rights can be taken from them when a crisis forces the president to declare a “state of emergency”.  During such a period, police are given extraordinary powers to arrest, detain and interrogate, and censorship can be imposed. The law also bans most political activity by opposition parties and forbids unregistered political donations.

Egypt has been continually in such a “state of emergency” since 1967.

In 1958 the Egyptian government passed Law No. 162 which allowed the government to suspend normal constitutional privileges if it needed to declare a “state of emergency”. The government first imposed the state of emergency during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It expired briefly (for 18 months) in 1979-1980, but was renewed it after President Anwar Sadat was assassinated.

The justification for the Emergency Law is that without it, radical Muslim extremists would undermine national stability. Many Egyptians are more worried about how the government will use the Emergency Law against them than they are about Muslim extremists.

For more information:

Golia, Maria. 2004. The Debilitating Impact of Egypt’s Emergency Law. Daily Star (Lebanon), Mar. 30.

Haweidy, Amira. 2005. Enough is still enoughAl-Ahram Weekly 8 – 14 September.

Holder, R. Clemente. 1994. Egyptian lawyer’s death triggers Cairo protests. Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July/August 1994, pp. 60-62.

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