Brains behind the buttons
An alleged drug baron whose shady relationship with the former regime reportedly includes involvement in the orchestrated rioting and violence that accompanied the revolution is nabbed, Ramy Yassin reports
At the headquarters of the Lawyers Syndicate, the syndicate's Freedoms Committee is scheduled to hold a conference today, Thursday, to reply to statements made on 28 August by Justice Minister Ahmed Mekki about a new draft law to amend the current emergency law. Talk about a new emergency law has stirred debate about a possible presidential intention to revive the state of emergency which was lifted in May by a decree of the then ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
The interior minister's statements about the necessity of applying the emergency law to confront thuggery has turned public doubts into near certainty.
According to Bahieddin Hassan, director of the Cairo Centre for Human Rights Studies, non-stop efforts to apply the emergency law once again means the Muslim Brotherhood finds difficulty in ruling Egyptians and controlling its opponents.
During a three-hour meeting held last week with a group of human rights activists, Mekki explained the aim behind issuing the new draft law and pledged that it will not be passed unless it is approved in a nationwide referendum.
The new draft, Mekki said, aims at "filtering the current faulty legislation of all the articles which shackle freedoms. So, if there is a state of emergency, the law will be void of all such ill-reputed articles," Mekki said, noting that the new amendments introduced to the law will maintain detainees' rights and guarantee that they will not be referred to the courts.
Mekki denied being instructed in any way by President Mohamed Mursi to issue the new draft. He stressed that he prepared the draft in his capacity as an Egyptian citizen before taking the ministerial seat.
By means of the new legislation, a presidential decree announcing the state of emergency should be referred to parliament within seven days following its issue to decide what should be done in this regard. The period defined for applying the state of emergency should not be extended unless getting public approval via a referendum.
However, while the state of emergency is applied, the president is entitled to issue a decree that would enforce censorship over newspapers and publications. The would-be legislation obliges the interior minister to inform the parliament, the Supreme Judiciary Council (SJC) and the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) of names of detainees, reasons of their detention and their whereabouts every month. The new draft lends the president, in exceptional cases, the right to refer crimes of premeditated murder, robbery, blocking roads, and destroying public utilities to military tribunals.
Mekki's statements were disappointing to political figures and legal activists who regard Mekki as one of the defenders of freedom, and who wonder about the necessity of amending such a law now. "Everyone was shocked to hear Mekki, a reformist, veteran judge, talking about reviving a law which sickened Egyptians for almost 30 years," Mohamed El-Damati, deputy chairman of the Lawyers Syndicate, told Al-Ahram Weekly. "What doubles our shock is that Mekki took such a step a few months after the SCAF abolished the state of emergency."
According to legal experts, abolishing the state of emergency does not mean that the emergency law was annulled. Emergency Law 162/1958 still exists.
While admitting that the emergency law exists in all world countries, El-Damati stressed that it is applied in very limited cases, for example, when there are earthquakes, plagues or when a state of war is announced. "Confronting acts thuggery does not need an emergency law, as the current penal code and the law of legal procedures are enough to meet security challenges," El-Damati noted.
Lawyers Syndicate Chairman Sameh Ashour was quoted by the daily Al-Ahram as saying "we are not in need of passing such a law before the issue of the new constitution, which will define the main features for any law."
A statement issued by the leftist Tagammu Party stressed that the new draft law will open detention camps and stifle freedom once again. In the statement, the Tagammu called upon all political forces to unite "as one man" and to press for aborting the draft.
In a statement, the Egyptian Communist Party condemned the "arbitrary system which increases the structure of legislation that shackle freedoms," and warned of attempts to bring back Mubarak's system "that applied the emergency law for 30 years to harass opponents and silence outspoken critics."