• MB News
  • November 5, 2005
  • 6 minutes read

About the Election: The president’s powers

About the Election: The president’s powers

About the Election: The president’s powers 

By Mohamed Sarwat

Most presidential candidates in Egypt have promised to cancel the emergency law which has been in force for 24 years.

A generation of Egyptians has lived their entire lives under the law, under which Egyptian families have lost their breadwinners to political prison.

“Bring back our sons” proclaimed a recent letter signed by 1,000 families of political prisoners in Egyptian jails. The families wrote to President Hosni Mubarak that “we, the families of those held in cases of opinion in Egypt, call for reform and for civil and public freedoms…. They have been absented on weak grounds and under the reactionary emergency law.”

The state of emergency was declared in Egypt in 1981 after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat. It allows Egyptians accused of sedition or political crimes to be tried by courts run by Egypt’s security and military arms, which would not be allowed under the country’s constitution. The emergency law allows confiscation and closure of newspapers, and restricts free speech and the right to peaceful assembly, all rights guaranteed under Egypt’s 1952 Constitution.

Dr Fawzi Hathut, Vice President of the Human Rights Legal Awareness Society in Cairo, says the emergency law has led to the arrest of 16,000 persons without trial, or to trials that can have military judges and give no right to challenge. “It is more of an encroachment on public freedoms and a tool to safeguard the regime and strengthen its powers than a law designed to serve the Egyptian people and their interests.”

Assistant Secretary of the ruling National Democratic Party Kamal al-Shazli says, “The emergency law does not jeopardize public freedoms.” He adds, “The emergency law protects Egypt from terrorism.”

Some who have had trouble because of the emergency law disagree.

Sanaa Tawfik, 45, from Zaqaziq says, “My husband has been imprisoned from January 2005. … We do not feel safe at home or in our hometown.”

Kamil Soliman, 65, from Asiyu, has a son who was arrested under emergency law powers. He begs the president for “clemency from those in power.” People across Egypt, from Aswan to Sinai, said they hope the presidential elections could lead to canceling the emergency law.

Dr. Usamah Ghazali Harb, member of the ruling National Democratic Party Policies Committee, says, “The regime in Egypt depends on the emergency law to suppress its political opponents… It is a horrible law that must be canceled immediately.” President Mubarak has said he might lift the emergency law but has talked of replacing it with an unspecified antiterrorism law.

Others maintain that eliminating the law will not significantly reduce the power of Egypt’s president.

Hisham Qasim, head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, says “The problem is not with canceling the emergency law or substituting it with a terror act. There are 35 articles in the constitution, that is 65 percent of it, that give the president immense powers.

Decision-making is limited to the president. The Constitution gives the president the right to issue decisions as good as laws. He is the head of the Armed Forces Supreme Council, the Police Supreme Council and the Judiciary Supreme Council. This means control of the executive, legislative and judiciary powers.”