For Immediate Release: June 1, 2012
Washington, DC – Human Rights First today said the expiration of Egypt’s long-standing Emergency Law, continually in force since 1981 and on the books since 1958, is a welcome development and may be a hopeful sign for the future. However, the organization cautioned that it would be premature to say that yesterday’s non-renewal of the state of emergency signals an end to a legal culture in which appeals to national security always trump human rights and the rule of law.
The expiration of the Emergency Law comes just two days before former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is due to be sentenced for the killing of protestors last year. It was after Mubarak’s departure that the ruling military council, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), came to power. The SCAF has pledged to leave office by the end of June after the election of a president.
“Even though the Emergency Law has been lifted, the SCAF retains powers under the Code of Military Justice to detain anyone it deems to be a threat to national security and to try them before military courts,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks. “In addition, many other laws and regulations grant exceptional powers, or broad discretion, to Egypt’s security establishment. The state of emergency, almost continually in force for over 50 years, has shaped the mentality of the security establishment and imbued Egypt’s legal culture with the idea of deference to the security services. This culture and mentality will not change in a day.”
Hicks observes that it would have been politically inconvenient for the SCAF to try to force the renewal of the Emergency Law through parliament, as it is required to do. The Muslim Brotherhood, which dominates the parliament, has stated that it would not renew the law, so a renewal would have likely failed. A political battle about the law may have weakened the military’s favored candidate, former air force General Ahmed Shafik, in the pending run-off in the presidential election between Shafik and the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Morsi.
“It will take more than just the lapse of the Emergency Law to remove the overbearing influence of the national security state from Egyptian law,” concluded Hicks. “Egypt’s new government should embark on a comprehensive project of legal reform and restructure the security services to create an institutional and legal framework in which human rights are protected and the rule of law prevails.”