The ruling military council's decision to revive the emergency law has left activists of all stripes anxious, reports Gamal Essam El-Din
A month after Prime Minister Essam Sharaf promised that the state of emergency would be revoked ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for November, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has announced that the provisions of the emergency law will be applied forcefully.
The decision was made public on 10 September, a day after tens of protesters stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo and attacked the headquarters of the Interior Ministry in downtown Cairo.
SCAF legal adviser Major General Mamdouh Shahin had said on 12 September that "repeated violations of public security have forced the ruling military council to re-invoke emergency measures̉ê¦ incidents include crimes of thuggery, terrorism, drug trafficking, sabotage, disrupting traffic and blocking roads, and spreading false rumours and information."
Shahin said offenders would henceforth be tried by State Security Courts in an attempt to "invoke tougher and faster action to stem the tide of crimes threatening national security and spreading chaos".
Minister of Interior Mansour Eissawi said security forces had exercised restraint on 9 September when a Tahrir Square protest descended into violence. "We did this because we know that some information media has adopted a systematic campaign aimed at tarnishing the image of Egypt's police officers and security forces," said Eissawi. "But the Interior Ministry will no longer tolerate attacks on its buildings or attempts to spread political instability."
Eissawi vowed that re-adopted emergency measures would be used solely to combat acts intended to damage national security.
Minister of Justice Mohamed Abdel-Aziz El-Guindi told Al-Ahram newspaper on 12 September that the breach of the Israeli embassy was part of a scheme aimed at undermining security and sowing the seeds of sedition. Commentators were taken aback when he accused some oil-rich Arab Gulf countries of seeking to undermine the 25 January Revolution.
"Some Gulf countries have offered millions of dollars to registered and unregistered civil society organisations to spread chaos in the country. They are motivated by fears that Egypt's revolution might spur revolts in their own countries," El-Guindi claimed. "One small Gulf country gave $181 million to an unregistered civil society organisation."
Analysts suggest El-Guindi was referring to Qatar, home of the highly politicised satellite television channel Al-Jazeera.
The decision to re-invoke the emergency law is a return to the draconian security policies of the Mubarak regime, say political activists. Human rights organisations have expressed fears that the SCAF's decision is part of a series of measures opposed to the democratic ideals espoused by the 25 January Revolution. Other moves include a ban on licences for new satellite television channels and a review of existing licences, and last week's raid on the offices of the Al-Jazeera Egypt Live.
Al-Jazeera officials say that pulling its affiliate Egypt Live off the air on 11 September was a punitive measure after the channel broadcast live images of protesters demolishing the government-sponsored wall in front of Israeli embassy building. The incident turned into an international embarrassment for the Egyptian authorities, raising questions over its ability to protect foreign diplomatic missions in Egypt's capital.
Last week also saw an aborted cabinet move to stop foreigners obtaining visas for Egypt at ports of entry "for security reasons". Although the decision was revoked on 12 September some political activists fear that the SCAF was seeking to raise the spectre of xenophobia as part of a concerted campaign to tighten its grip.
Activists also claim that the SCAF and the Sharaf government are increasingly resorting to Mubarak era-style rhetoric against shadowy foreign threats as an excuse to delay the transition to democracy.
In response, a number of youth movements are issuing calls for mass public protests in Tahrir Square on 16 and 30 September.
Forces from across the political spectrum have expressed concern over the re-activation of the emergency law. The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party denounced the decision "as a setback and a step in the wrong direction".
Left-leaning political analyst Gamal Zahran believes that "the new emergency measures will take Egypt into a dark tunnel".
Wafd Party Chairman Sayed El-Badawi said "the emergency law must be implemented in a very limited way in order to strengthen the state's authority and sovereignty and not to abuse the political rights of citizens".
Al-Ahram political analyst Emad Gad blamed the youth movements of the 25 January Revolution for "the earthquake of 9 September which hit the Israeli embassy".