Egypt Returns to Bad Old Days of Repression

September 19, 2011

An Egyptian youth waves the national flag
An Egyptian youth waves the national flag with slogan in Arabic that reads. "25th of January, Day of the Freedom" © Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

It’s a return to the bad old days of repression for Egypt.

Last week, the military regime took a significant step back – severely threatening free speech, free association and assembly, and the right to strike – by expanding the government’s “emergency powers.”

These “State of Emergency” powers are the same ones the Mubarak regime used in its assault on human rights. The military authorities have essentially taken Egypt’s laws back to the bad old days of repression.

And with the coming parliamentary election, the timing couldn’t be worst.  The Egyptian people have waited so long for free elections, but even the most devoted of Egyptian democracy activists knew that a lot of difficult work had to be done in little time to build the foundations of free press, independent judiciary and other pillars needed for free elections.

Fair elections cannot be held in 2011 if the military regime is using “emergency powers” to arrest people without charge.  Instead of expanding these powers the military council needs to fulfill the promise they made at the fall of the Mubarak regime in February to end the State of Emergency.

At several critical moments over these past months, the military council has set back that work, through harassment of journalists and bloggers, arrests of political activists, curtailment of public protests, and resuming unfair trials of civilians in military court.

The US government appears to be in a weak position to do anything about this, although officials have raised their usual objections.  They will not be heard in Cairo.

No, the challenge to the regime, as it did back in January, will come from inside of Egypt.  As this blog is being written, mass protests are again being formed in Tahrir Square.  Time and time again this summer, Egyptians have returned to where the uprising began and told the military rulers that they haven’t forgotten the dream of Jan. 25.  This time, many are vowing to remain until the three-decade old State of Emergency is lifted.

Amnesty International is urging the Egyptian authorities to respect the rights of demonstrators to protest peacefully tomorrow. We fear that the security forces will interpret these amendments as a sign that they have been ‘let off the leash’.