A YEAR HAS PASSED SINCE President Hosni Mubarak announced there would be multi-candidate presidential elections. May marks the one-year anniversary of the referendum to put in place that promise, but Egypt has seen a surge in activism. Emergency laws put in place after the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat are set to expire in June. The president has hinted they may be extended but, ultimately they will probably be replaced by more permanent anti-terrorism legislation. Activist groups such as Kefaya and the Muslim Brotherhood are worried this will mean the Cairo government will launch a clampdown on civil liberties.
The laws allow the government to detain anyone deemed a threat to state security for renewable periods of 45 days without court orders. They also give military courts the power to try ordinary citizens. The new anti-terrorism bill is expected to formalise large sections of the emergency laws currently in place.
In the US, the controversial Patriot Act of 2001 gives the Department of Homeland Security authorisation to boost levels of surveillance over US citizens, as well as enhancing presidential power and the government's right of search and seizure. Similarly, Egypt's emergency laws, and most likely the pending anti-terrorism replacement, will provide national security services with the absolute right to detain suspects for months at a time.
"The priority is to make this country safe and stable," Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif told reporters in April at an international economic forum. "The only reason we have a state of emergency in place is to ensure we can combat terrorism. Egypt has been, and still is, on the frontline in the war against terror." Prime Minister Nazif has ordered the formation of a committee to draft the new law; however, it is not yet clear when it is expected to come into force.
April 2005 saw two French tourists and an American killed in the Al Azhar area of Cairo. Later that same month, seven people were wounded in another attack in the capital. Then, in July, multiple suicide car bombings rocked the Red Sea resort of Sharm Al Sheikh, killing some 70 people in the country's worst terrorist attack in history.
However, not everyone's concerns have been allayed by Nazif's words. "What I am afraid of is that they will replace the current temporary state of emergency with a legalised law of emergency," Amr Darrag, a Cairo University professor and spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, notes. "The...