Jailan Zayan, AFP
Last updated: October 19, 2011

Hundreds in Cairo protest against emergency law

Hundreds of people gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday to protest against the recent expansion of the emergency law, amid palpable anger over the military's handling of transition from autocratic rule.

Protesters waved flags and chanted "no to the emergency law" in what was the epicentre of rallies that toppled the regime of president Hosni Mubarak in February.

Last week the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) widened the scope of the emergency law -- restricted in 2010 by Mubarak to narcotics and terrorism -- to include strikes, traffic disruption and the spreading of rumours.

Imam Gomaa Mohammed, delivering the Muslim noon prayer sermon, called on the authorities to repeal the law immediately and also to end the military trial of civilians.

"The application of the emergency law totally contradicts the demands of the revolution" that toppled Mubarak following 18 days of mass nationwide rallies, Mohammed said.

He urged the military council to "abolish (the law) and to apply civil law to all citizens without exception."

Mohammed called for "an end to the military trials of civilians" and demanded a retrial of all those sentenced by military courts. A number of rights groups put that figure at more than 10,000.

Echoing demands by youth groups that helped launch the uprising, Mohammed urged authorities to lay out a "clear timetable for legislative and presidential elections," stressing that "security and stability will only return to the country after elections."

An AFP correspondent said that about 1,000 people were gathered in Tahrir Square by late afternoon.

"The emergency law takes us back to the style of the old regime," said one protester, carrying his young son on his shoulders.

He said he feared the military would keep finding reasons or justifications to remain in power, either directly, or by getting one of their ranks elected as president.

Abdullah Mohammed, a young protester from the working class neighbourhood of Shubra Masr, said the revolution that toppled Mubarak had demanded "bread, freedom and social justice" and vowed not to accept anything less.

"This emergency law means (authorities) can go back to stopping people and searching them for no reason. It gives them a free rein. We had this for 30 years," he told AFP.

On Thursday, Egyptian cyber-activist Wael Ghonim called for a clear roadmap in an open letter to military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of SCAF and Mubarak's long-time defence minister.

"After weeks and months, the mode of governance in our nation has not fundamentally changed and the excuse has been 'stability'," he said in the letter published on Facebook.

He called on the council to "quickly announce specific dates for the process of transferring complete power from the SCAF to an elected civilian authority that would control everything in the nation."

The tension between activists and the ruling military has been building up in recent months, marked by protests, clashes and general unrest.

On Thursday, Amnesty International slammed the recent expansion of the emergency law as a "serious erosion of human rights."

"The military authorities have essentially taken Egypt's laws back to the bad old days," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"These changes are a major threat to the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, and the right to strike," Luther said. "We are looking at the most serious erosion of human rights in Egypt since Mubarak stepped down."

"Not only must SCAF repeal these amendments, they need to end the state of emergency altogether, as they promised upon taking power in February," Luther said.

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