Putting the Emergency in emergency law

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Egyptian citizens demand change from President Mubarak

Ed Kapp
News Writer

For the last week, widespread demonstrations in opposition to embattled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his government are threatening the regime’s 30-year grip on the North African nation.

The protests began on Jan. 25. They were chiefly inspired by President Mubarak’s utilization of Egypt’s Emergency Law.
Under the controversial law, power of the executive branch is extended, constitutional rights of Egyptian citizens are suspended, government censorship is legalized, and the government is allowed to imprison citizens indefinitely and without reason. The Egyptian government can impose the Emergency Law on a nationwide or regional scale during what it determines to be a state of emergency.

Egypt’s Emergency Law was first enacted for 13 years, from 1967 to 1980, before being briefly lifted for 18 months prior to the assassination of then-president, Anwar Sadat. Following Sadat’s assassination, President Mubarak took the reins of Egypt and re-enacted his nation’s Emergency Law – allegedly using the anti-democratic policy to limit the influence of terrorist groups in his native Egypt. For the last thirty years, Mubarak has been in control of Egypt, and has consistently extended the Emergency Law every three years, despite promising to reform the controversial measure in 2006 only to once again extend the policy.

Many native Egyptians and outside observers alike have long questioned the merit of the Emergency Law. A 2002 report from the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights went one step further. It claimed the oppressive policy was, in fact, detrimental to the Egyptian population.

"With the absence of real justifications for the Emergency Law – and a lack of control over its implementation – we find that its impact is purely negative, affecting the future of human rights and democracy in Egypt," the report stated.

Despite Egypt’s authoritarian stance towards individual freedoms and liberties during “states of emergency,” many have accused the Egyptian government of negligence during their own imposed “state of emergency.” The most recent example coming after a bomb detonated outside a church in Alexandria on New Year’s Day, killing 23.

Egypt’s Emergency Law – in conjunction with economic woes, rampant poverty, widespread unemployment, unbridled political corruption, and countless instances of abuse at the hands of Egypt’s police force – sparked the largest demonstration in Egypt since 1977.

On Jan. 25, Egyptians flooded the streets of several cities across the nation in protest of Mubarak’s government, including thousands in Cairo. That’s where a police officer was reported to have died. Another 20,000 protested across Alexandria, with thousands more on the streets of Suez – where two demonstrators were reportedly killed in clashes with Egypt’s police force.
By the sixth day of protests more than 75 people had been killed, with an estimated 2,000 more injured according to medical officials.

In response to the unrest, the Canadian federal government initially issued a travel advisory. It advised Canadians on non-essential business leave Egypt on Jan. 28. Then, on Jan. 30, the government began putting together plans to send charter planes to Egypt to pick up some of the estimated 6,500 Canadians currently in the North African nation.

On Friday, Jan. 28, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, neither explicitly leaning towards siding with the government nor the Egyptian protesters, insisted that Egypt has an important partnership with Canada. He added, “We urge the Egyptian government to ensure full freedom of political expression for its citizens.”

On Saturday, however, Cannon told the CBC that the Canadian federal government would like President Mubarak to “listen to the will of the people.” He also said Canada is “encouraging President Mubarak and his government to go forward and put democratic reforms in place.”

In an attempt to regain control of his country and restore a degree of faith in his government, President Mubarak has appointed both a new vice-president and a new prime minister, but is still yet to step down himself – despite the encouragement of thousands of protesting Egyptians and countless spectators around the globe.

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