The Egyptian parliament on Monday renewed the 27-year-old state of emergency for two more years, dashing the hopes of the nation's human rights activists.
In all, 305 of the Parliament's 454 members voted in favor of the renewal after President Hosni Mubarak issued a decree a day earlier calling on the nationís representatives to extend the notorious state of emergency. One hundred three MPs did not heed Mubarak's call.
Under the emergency law, the police are authorized to detain people indefinitely without charges, refer civilians to military courts, close dissident publications and thwart demonstrations.
In 2005 Mubarak promised to lift the state of emergency and pass an anti-terror act instead, but he has yet to deliver on his pledges. The act has not been passed, and Mubarak's regime has used that fact to justify the extension of the emergency law. The state of emergency was due to expire May 31.
"It is sad that Egypt remains under state of emergency for more than 27 years," said Bahey Eddin Hassan, general director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. "We fear that the extension of the state of emergency aims at crushing the peaceful political opposition, which has recently increased."
Egypt has recently witnessed a strong wave of labor unrest and the rise of political opposition groups in cyberspace. Young activists have been using the Facebook network as a venue for political expression and mobilization.
Hassan suspected that the government needed more time to add new articles to the anti-terror law that would restrict these specific new forms of secular political opposition.
"I fear that the postponement of the law would be to include more articles to criminalize all the activities of the peaceful political opposition that has nothing to do with terrorism or violence," Hassan said.
He also speculated that the government was waiting for the right moment to pass its anti-terror act, which is expected to elicit strong protests.
"The government's image locally and internationally is now the worst ever, so this might be a reason why they postponed the law, which is expected to be shocking domestically and internationally," Hassan said. "It is expected to be the worst anti-terror act in the world."
Most human rights advocates expect the anti-terror act legislation to be a duplication of the emergency law.
The state of emergency has been in effect since the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat. Although the government says it targets only terrorists, the law has been widely used against different opposition factions, namely the Muslim Brotherhood, the nation's largest nonviolent Islamist group
Click to view image: '185366-afp_mubarak_brotherhood_11jan071.jpg'
|Liveleak on Facebook|