Egypt opposition moves to end state of emergency

Muslim Brotherhood’s Akef insists state of emergency has heightened tensions in Egypt instead of easing them.

CAIRO – Egypt’s opposition Muslim Brotherhood launched a campaign Wednesday to end the state of emergency, which President Hosni Mubarak has renewed for 25 years and is expected to extend next month.

“The lack of freedom is the cause of all woes. And the state of emergency has heightened tensions in this country instead of easing them,” the Islamist movement’s supreme guide Mohammed Mehdi Akef told a press conference.

Akef was referring to clashes between Coptic Christians and Muslims in the second city of Alexandria last week after a knife-wielding Islamist attacked worshippers in several churches.

The Islamist movement – which is officially banned but controls a fifth of the seats in parliament – said last week that five of its members had been detained as they prepared to publish material criticising the regime for its failure to abolish emergency laws.

Dozens of the movement’s supporters were also briefly detained in southern Egypt over the weekend.

During his campaign for the September 2005 presidential election, Mubarak promised to abolish the state of emergency which has been in force almost continuously since 1967.

But the 77-year-old president warned in a recent interview that new counter-terrorism legislation would be needed to replace the state of exception that could take as long as two years to draft.

George Ishak, spokesman of the secular opposition group Kefaya which joined the new campaign, said the emergency had failed to achieve its stated objective of halting militant attacks.

Egypt was hit by a spate of deadly attacks by Islamic militants in the 1990s and has seen fresh bombings against Red Sea resorts in the past two years.

On Tuesday, 114 of Egypt’s 454 MPs announced the formation of a “lawmakers against the state of emergency” group and called on rights groups to support their campaign.

The Muslim Brotherhood won 88 seats in the People’s Assembly in elections in November and December which monitors said were marred by widespread rigging and voter obstruction.