Al-Ahram Weekly Online   11 - 17 May 2006
Issue No. 794
Press review
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Two more years

No one has praised the extension of the emergency law, writes Mohamed El-Sayed

Last week's extension of the 25-year-old emergency law for two more years produced harsh critiques. Writers voiced their anger after President Hosni Mubarak had promised during his election campaign last year to abrogate the law, in place since 1981.

"The extension of the emergency law has come to expose the empty promises of the NDP's Policies Committee, the misconception of reform and democracy on the side of Ahmed Nazif [the prime minister] and the advisors of the presidency... all have impinged upon the Egyptian people by extending the law," wrote Ibrahim Eissa in the weekly Al-Dostour.

"By extending the notorious emergency law, President Mubarak has reneged on all his reform promises made during his election campaign," wrote Amira Abul-Fotouh in the daily opposition Al-Wafd. Under the law, Abul-Fotouh wrote, every Egyptian citizen "is subject to detention. By extending this law, the regime thinks it is securing itself. On the contrary, the government does not realise that securing itself cannot be achieved through a repressive law or via stretching its muscles. In the end, this repressive approach will lead the people to explode."

Abul-Fotouh argued that the government had turned a deaf ear to the people and calls for political reform. "Ironically, after asking the People's Assembly for the extension, the prime minister said the government would go ahead with political and constitutional reforms. This defies logic, for the extension of the law undermines any real reform."

The writer also alluded to the prime minister's statement last year in Washington in which he said that the Egyptian people were not mature enough or ready for democracy.

Many a writer warned against the enactment of a new anti-terrorism law. Official statements say that some articles of the constitution, especially those concerning political freedoms, will be amended so as not to conflict with the new anti-terrorism law. This, they argue, constitutes a serious threat to political freedoms. "Apparently, the new law will be more repressive than the emergency law itself," Abul-Fotouh said.

Diaa Rashwan argued that the government is anti- reform. "One of the most striking features of the current government is that it is opposing demands by people and political forces for political reform," Rashwan wrote in Al-Masry Al-Yom. "Ironically, the government firmly believes that by so doing it is introducing political reforms. During the past months, the government introduced a highly controversial amendment to Article 76 of the constitution that, practically speaking, does not allow anybody to run for president other than an NDP candidate. It prevented the electorate from accessing polling stations during the parliamentary elections; it now punishes judges who state there was rigging during last year's parliamentary elections; it detained those who demonstrated in solidarity with the judges; and now it has extended the infamous emergency law."

To cap it off, Rashwan added, "the government is working on a new anti-terrorism law that will replace the current emergency law. This will requisite changing some of the constitutional articles that protect freedom of expression and political rights of citizens. This move, if it happens, would be the most dangerous step in the 25-year-old rule of the current regime. It will dash all hopes for reform in the future, and deny people the political gains they made in the past."

Veteran political analyst and journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal offered his thoughts on several current political conundrums in an interview published in Al-Masry Al-Yom. "Egypt is in dire need of a new social contract, a new constitutional assembly, and a new constitution," Heikal said. He argued that the people's patience is wearing thin, and "if the course of events continues, the results will be horrible, and the situation will reach deadlock."

Heikal was supportive of the judges' demands for total independence from state control. "I am enthusiastic, nevertheless, they don't have a vision for the future."

"[The regime] will never accept changes voluntarily. What is important is how much pressure the people will put on [the regime] to impose a certain situation..."

Heikal stressed, "the bequeathing of the presidency will not happen as this will be vehemently refused by the public."

Prominent Al-Masry Al-Yom columnist Magdi Mehanna strongly criticised Gamal Mubarak, the assistant secretary-general of the NDP and head of its influential Policies Committee, following a press conference he held last week. "It seems that [Gamal Mubarak] still lacks the ability to understand, communicate or persuade people," Mehanna said. "When he says that the judges crisis is just an 'illusion', when he says that he is content with the political reforms achieved so far, when he says that the emergency law is not a popular issue and is not a priority for the average man, then he is not willing to communicate with the people, and this bears witness to the fact that there is a major communication gap between him and the public."

Mehanna concluded his article with a piece of advice for the NDP assistant secretary-general: "If these are your political convictions and opinions, it's better if you quit the political scene, for addressing and communicating with the people is an art which not everyone working in the political field has."

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