CAIRO — One of Egypt’s ruling generals said Monday the military will expand a state of emergency because of a “breach in public security” after protesters stormed Israel’s embassy and clashed with police, state news agency MENA reported.
The ruling military council issued a decree to widen the scope of the emergency law — restricted in 2010 by ousted president Hosni Mubarak to narcotics and terrorism cases — to target labour strikes and the “spread of false rumours.”
It will also target acts that “disrupt traffic,” MENA reported. That could possibly outlaw many demonstrations like the regular protests held after an uprising overthrew Mubarak in February.
“Widening the scope of crimes liable under the emergency law along with terrorism and narcotics is the result of the security conditions the country is undergoing and the breach in public order,” the agency quoted General Mamduh Shahin as saying.
The general, a member of Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, stressed the “necessity of confronting thuggery and all who threaten Egypt’s security and harm its reputation abroad.”
Those arrested under the law face emergency state security courts, which critics say are unfair and result in harsh sentences.
Protesters clashed with police overnight on Friday after demonstrators stormed a high-rise building housing the Israeli embassy and dumped thousands of documents from a balcony.
Three protesters were killed in the clashes, which left more than 1,000 people wounded. Israel’s ambassador and many of his staff were evacuated home.
The incident proved an embarrassment to the country’s rulers, with US President Barack Obama calling on Egypt to “honour its international obligations to safeguard the security of the Israeli embassy.”
Since the 18-day uprising that ousted Mubarak, Egypt’s police force has largely collapsed and the military, unused to civilian policing, has struggled to deal with sporadic and at times deadly unrest.
But critics say widening the emergency law, continuously in place since Islamists assassinated Mubarak’s predecessor Anwar Sadat in 1981, is unnecessary and a revival of former practices.
The military had promised that parliamentary elections scheduled by the end of the year would not be conducted under a state of emergency.
“It’s a human rights catastrophe,” said Hossam Bahgat, the director of the Egyptian Initiative For Personal Rights, a leading rights group.
“It’s not only reneging on the promise to lift emergency law, but it revives one of the worst aspects of Mubarak rule and risks introducing the notorious system of administrative detention without charge and trial,” he said.
Heba Morayef, a Cairo-based representative of the international rights watchdog Human Rights Watch, called the measure “unnecessary, overly broad and disproportionate.”
“This is the classic Mubarak reaction to any perceived security risk,” she said. “The military is giving broad and excessive powers to a police force that continues to be abusive and incompetent.”
Essam al-Erian, vice president of the influential Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, said “the general trend is in opposition” to the measure.
“There was a promise that elections would be held without the emergency law. What this means is that either the elections will take place under the emergency law or they will be delayed,” he said.
The military has not suggested that it would delay the elections.
But the state-owned Al-Akbar newspaper reported on Monday that the electoral commission agreed in a meeting with military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi to hold separate parliamentary and senate elections rather than simultaneously as planned previously.
Amr Mussa, a leading presidential candidate and former Arab League chief, suggested in an interview published on Monday that the military work on a “road map” with a civilian council on a transition to civilian government.
In the interview with the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, he added that attacking embassies and “Egyptian institutions” was “an attempt to spread chaos and assert lawlessness.”