Egypt will lift emergency laws

Syrian laborers chanted slogans of support for their president, Bashar Assad, outside the Syrian Embassy in Beirut. Syrian laborers chanted slogans of support for their president, Bashar Assad, outside the Syrian Embassy in Beirut. (AFP/ Getty Images)
By Maggie Michael
Associated Press / March 29, 2011

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CAIRO — Egypt’s military rulers announced yesterday that the country’s hated emergency laws will be lifted before parliamentary elections set for September, the latest move to ease harsh restrictions under the ousted regime of President Hosni Mubarak.

The laws have been in place since 1981, when Mubarak took power. They give police near-unlimited powers of arrest and allow indefinite detentions without charges. The regulations also sharply curtail rights to demonstrate and organize politically.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which is ruling the country, also said that Mubarak and his family are under house arrest. The statement apparently aimed to defuse rumors that Mubarak had left for Saudi Arabia for medical treatment.

In another move to lighten restrictions, the council reduced the nightly curfew to three hours, from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m.

This reflects improvement in the security situation after a wave of acts of thuggery and armed theft after police were pulled off the streets on Jan. 28. The curfew has been in effect from midnight to 6 a.m.

In another landmark move, the council issued a decree easing conditions for forming political parties. This overturns Mubarak’s system that gave his party a virtual veto over creation of parties.

Under the decree, new parties must have 5,000 members from at least 10 of Egypt’s 29 provinces.

The order gives citizens the right to establish parties by notifying a newly established judicial committee. The party would be recognized 30 days after sending the notification, if the committee has not issued objections.

There are limitations. The council banned the formation of political parties on religious grounds and those discriminating against citizens based on their race or faith.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition movement, outlawed for half a century, said it is planning to establish a party.

Hossam Tamam, a researcher in Islamic movements, said that the Muslim Brotherhood can easily get around the restriction by eliminating articles in its political agenda that ban women and Copts from running.

Tamam said that the restriction appears to be aimed at fundamentalist Islamic groups like the Salafi movement.

As Syrians awaited a rumored lifting of the country’s long state of emergency, security forces tried again to end unrest. Troops fired tear gas on a crowd of some 4,000 people in Daraa who were calling for more political freedoms, witnesses said. They also fired live ammunition in the air to disperse the crowd.

Armed groups appeared to be threatening an escalation in violence in the country’s main port city of Latakia. Residents were taking up weapons and staffing checkpoints to guard against unknown gunmen roaming the streets carrying sticks and hunting rifles, according to witnesses.

Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, who has wavered between cracking down and compromising, is expected to address the nation as early as today to announce whether he will lift a nearly 50-year state of emergency and move to annul other harsh restrictions on civil liberties and political freedoms.

The southern city of Daraa — drought-stricken, rural, and impoverished — has become the flashpoint for 10 days of antigovernment protests in a country that has a history of brutally crushing dissent. At least 61 people have been killed since March 18, according to Human Rights Watch. Touched off by the arrest of teenagers who scrawled antigovernment graffiti on a wall in Daraa, the protests exploded nationwide Friday. Security forces launched a swift crackdown, opening fire in at least six locations around the country.

President Fouad Mebazaa fired Farhat Rajhi as interior minister just weeks after Rajhi shepherded through the dissolution of the longtime former ruling party.

The dismissal was reported by the official news agency TAP, which provided no details. It said Habib Essid, an American-educated economist who served as an adviser to the prime minister, will take up the post.

A judicial official said that 25 protesters blamed for Jordan’s most violent unrest in three months of prodemocracy demonstrations have been released. The official refused to say why they were freed. But the government is trying to ease tension with the opposition, which accuses it of ordering police to use force to disperse a peaceful protest calling for reforms. top stories on Twitter

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