CAIRO (AFP) – Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif will on Tuesday ask parliament to extend the state of emergency by two years, cabinet minister Mufid Shehab said, despite sharp criticism by rights groups and opponents.
Egypt’s decades-old emergency law gives police extended powers of arrest, suspends constitutional rights and curbs non-governmental political activity. Special courts set up under the law deny a right of appeal.
The law has repeatedly come under fire from international rights groups, who say that thousands of prisoners have been detained without charge, many for over a decade.
“The government is going to ask for an extension (of the emergency law) for two years,” Shehab told reporters, saying Nazif will address the People’s Assembly later on Tuesday.
The move to extend the status is widely expected to go through considering it needs a simple majority to pass and parliament is dominated by President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.
The state of emergency was imposed in 1981 after the assassination by Islamists of president Anwar Sadat and has been repeatedly renewed since then despite protests from local and international rights groups and regime opponents.
The controversial law is set to expire on May 31. Parliament would be voting to extend the state of emergency from June 1 to May 31, 2012, Shehab said.
But he insisted that it would only be applied to “crimes confined to terrorism and the trafficking of narcotics.”
Egypt’s authorities have used the state of emergency to clamp down on political opponents, including the country’s largest opposition movement, the banned Muslim Brotherhood, whose members sit in parliament as independents.
Protesters, among them parliamentarians affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and members of other secular opposition movements, started to gather outside parliament late morning ahead of a planned demonstration later in the day to call for an end to the state of emergency.
Some held posters depicting a skeleton to symbolise the Egyptian people with a noose — the emergency law– around its neck.
Others held signs reading “Mubarak says we are a stable country but the NDP says we are in a state of emergency.”
The government has since 2005 been saying it would replace the emergency law with new anti-terror legislation.
On Monday, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc Hamdy Hassan told AFP that “the government has already made clear its intention to extend the state of emergency.”
“But this time, we will not let it pass easily,” he said.
Last month, Egyptian police beat up demonstrators demanding an end to the emergency law and dozens were arrested.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch last month condemned the law as “abusive.”
“The unfettered powers granted to the government to detain anyone they want, at any time, for just about any reason makes real political reform in Egypt impossible,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“If the government renews this law once again in May, it will only perpetuate its abusive, unchecked rule over the people of Egypt.”
The opposition fears the law will be used to crack down on regime opponents ahead of parliamentary elections later this year. Egypt is also to hold presidential elections in 2011.