When Will Egypt's State of Emergency End?

The Egyptian government went before the United Nations Human Rights Council last month and insisted that there is no torture and that State of Emergency provisions are used only against terrorists.

Tell that to Dr. Taha Abdel Tawab.

The doctor, a well-known supporter of former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed ElBaradei, was allegedly taken to a state security office and tortured for his support for ElBaradi, who is frequently named as a potential opposition presidential candidate.  According to the Arab human rights organization ANHRI, Tawab was transferred to Senorus hospital in serious condition.

ANHRI has asked government officials to investigate the incident but say they have not received a response.  Egypt has a long history of failing to provide public, independent investigations of security officers accused of torture.

The incident comes just days after Amnesty International called upon the Egyptian government to implement UN recommendations that would end torture and other abuses done in the name of security.

The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights’ findings, made public on March 9, criticized abuses made in the name of national security in Egypt.  The report criticized the wide discretion allowed to the SSI and commented that “SSI officers in practice enjoy carte blanche in deciding on whom to arrest”.

The Egyptian government claims emergency powers are used only against terrorists, but novelist Musaad Abu Fagr has been in administrative detention since February 2008, despite obtaining several court orders for his release.

The Egyptian government claims emergency powers are used only against terrorists, but novelist Musaad Abu Fagr has been in administrative detention since February 2008, despite obtaining several court orders for his release.

Currently, it remains unclear how many people are held without charge or trial in administrative detention under the Emergency Law by order of the Minister of Interior, as the authorities refuse to disclose this information, but they may number several thousand. Some have been held continuously for years under a succession of detention orders despite obtaining court orders for their release.

The Egyptian government immediately demurred, stating that Emergency Law, which has been in effect for nearly three decades, is used primarily to combat terrorism and drug trafficking although, in fact, it is also used to detain bloggers and other peaceful critics, such as Dr. Taha Abdel Tawab.

The Egyptian claim is nonsense.  Emergency powers have long been used to prosecute political opponents, journalists, secularists, intellectuals, Islamists, women, religious minorities, gays and just about any group outside of the control of the regime.

Change is coming to Egypt.  The actions the government takes now will help guide what direction that change takes.  The best thing for the Mubarak regime to do is to read the UN Special Rapporteur’s report and end arbitrary arrests, prolonged detention with out trial, torture and ill-treatment by security officials and unfair trials before emergency and military courts.

Update: Encouraging news should be announced as well.  Amnesty International welcomes the release March 9 of blogger Ahmed Mostafa, although the release was conditional on an apology and removal of his accusation of nepotism against a military official. He was facing a military trial.

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7 thoughts on “When Will Egypt's State of Emergency End?

  1. An israeli professor has just spoken of "totalitarian democracies".

    An excellent coining that goes for his state & for all the rest.

    Between a system's selfstylizations & a people's actual standing, all states are ultimately totalitarian democracies.

    And whenever you ( Amnesty ) speak of "encouraging news" ( like a blogger released after being forced to apologize to some bemedalled Big Belly & retract his own accurate & valiant insight about the same gent, or a women's procession being allowed to proceed up a stretch pf road somewhere else after a nod from the Big Bellies over there ), the whole thing is such a wretched accounting of a single mote plucked out of one eye in a blinding sandstorm at the bottom of a sea of descending darkness that by all standards of sanity or veracity that piece of news has got to be seen as dishearteningly discouraging or horrendously hilarious.

    Or as the bottomline verdict on the state of "human" "rights" in the age of the "nation state".

  2. An israeli professor has just spoken of “totalitarian democracies”.

    An excellent coining that goes for his state & for all the rest.

    Between a system’s selfstylizations & a people’s actual standing, all states are ultimately totalitarian democracies.

    And whenever you ( Amnesty ) speak of “encouraging news” ( like a blogger released after being forced to apologize to some bemedalled Big Belly & retract his own accurate & valiant insight about the same gent, or a women’s procession being allowed to proceed up a stretch pf road somewhere else after a nod from the Big Bellies over there ), the whole thing is such a wretched accounting of a single mote plucked out of one eye in a blinding sandstorm at the bottom of a sea of descending darkness that by all standards of sanity or veracity that piece of news has got to be seen as dishearteningly discouraging or horrendously hilarious.

    Or as the bottomline verdict on the state of “human” “rights” in the age of the “nation state”.

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  4. I am glad that you have brought this post to our attention because I think that it raises some very interesting questions, not only about Egypt’s oppressive governmental policies, but also about the United States’ hypocritical support of abusive countries. As you state, Egypt has reinstated Emergency Law year after year not because it is actually in a State of Emergency, but because it gives the government the power to freely “prosecute political opponents […] and just about any group outside of the control of the regime.” Under this law, the government wields totalitarian power and the “SSI officers in practice enjoy carte blanche in deciding on whom to arrest.” This gives the government the opportunity to maintain its complete control over the nation and, as Hafez Abu Sada from the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights claims, “The state of emergency has for decades been one of the main causes of human rights violations in Egypt.” The disappearances, torture and oppression that result from this law are a human rights crisis that needs to be rectified immediately.

    I think that one of the most important aspects of this issue is the amount of aid that Egypt receives from the United States every year. Although the US claims to be a champion of human rights around the world, it sends Egypt the fourth highest amount of aid received by foreign countries, after Afghanistan, Iraq, and Israel. In doing so, the United States is conveying an extremely hypocritical message- as long as a country is an important strategic ally, the United States will look the other way when it comes to human rights abuses and oppression of the local populace. In fact, by continuing its immense financial support, the United States is effectively giving the Egyptian government permission and approval for its treatment of its citizens. While putting international attention on Egypt is a crucial step in forcing the government to award its citizens their basic rights, do you think this is possible without firm pressure from the United States to do the same? As long as the US continues to back the Egyptian government do you think that the Egyptian people will enjoy any improvement to the current protection of their rights?

  5. I am glad that you have brought this post to our attention because I think that it raises some very interesting questions, not only about Egypt’s oppressive governmental policies, but also about the United States’ hypocritical support of abusive countries. As you state, Egypt has reinstated Emergency Law year after year not because it is actually in a State of Emergency, but because it gives the government the power to freely “prosecute political opponents […] and just about any group outside of the control of the regime.” Under this law, the government wields totalitarian power and the “SSI officers in practice enjoy carte blanche in deciding on whom to arrest.” This gives the government the opportunity to maintain its complete control over the nation and, as Hafez Abu Sada from the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights claims, “The state of emergency has for decades been one of the main causes of human rights violations in Egypt.” The disappearances, torture and oppression that result from this law are a human rights crisis that needs to be rectified immediately.

    I think that one of the most important aspects of this issue is the amount of aid that Egypt receives from the United States every year. Although the US claims to be a champion of human rights around the world, it sends Egypt the fourth highest amount of aid received by foreign countries, after Afghanistan, Iraq, and Israel. In doing so, the United States is conveying an extremely hypocritical message- as long as a country is an important strategic ally, the United States will look the other way when it comes to human rights abuses and oppression of the local populace. In fact, by continuing its immense financial support, the United States is effectively giving the Egyptian government permission and approval for its treatment of its citizens. While putting international attention on Egypt is a crucial step in forcing the government to award its citizens their basic rights, do you think this is possible without firm pressure from the United States to do the same? As long as the US continues to back the Egyptian government do you think that the Egyptian people will enjoy any improvement to the current protection of their rights?

  6. Do any of you know concrete info concerning what's going on in Sinai? I have several Israeli friends staying in Dahab right now and I'm kind of concerned. I pray that nothing has happened.

  7. Do any of you know concrete info concerning what’s going on in Sinai? I have several Israeli friends staying in Dahab right now and I’m kind of concerned. I pray that nothing has happened.