Martial law extended in Egypt




By Mark Huband in Cairo

Financial Times, 25 February 1997

The Egyptian government has extended martial law provisions to protect   widespread economic reforms, despite strong criticism of security measures viewed as undermining the political opposition.

Parliament on Sunday approved a presidential decree extending for a further three years emergency laws which allow lengthy detention without trial and subject civilians to trials in military courts.

Mr Kamal El-Ganzouri, the prime minister, justified the extension of the law on the grounds that Egypt’s economy could become a target for terrorist groups intent on hitting government attempts to secure foreign investment and pursue extensive privatisation. At a late-night session, the 444-seat People’s Assembly passed the law with 432 members in favour of extension and 12 against. The ruling National Democratic party has a 317-seat majority in parliament. Mr El-Ganzouri said the government would take steps to correct “any mistakes as a result of the application of the law”.

The current laws are directed against the activities of Islamist militants whose sporadic battles with the security forces have left over 1,000 people dead in the past five years.  Two weeks ago 10 Coptic Christians were gunned down in a church in Upper Egypt by suspected Islamist assailants. The Copts are believed to have been targeted after visiting Israel. Last April, 18 Greek tourists were shot dead in Cairo by Islamists who later admitted they thought the visitors were Israelis.

The violence no longer appears directed against Egypt’s tourism industry, which saw a rise in visitors during 1996 after a lull from 1992 to 1995.

Despite the government’s view that the emergency law will help protect the economic reforms no clear evidence exists of economic sabotage by Islamists. However, business people predict that an estimated 250,000-300,000 redundancies stemming from privatisation may give the Islamic groups an incentive to oppose the reforms.

Egypt’s opposition parties broadly condemned the 1995 elections as having been distorted by the security force’s use of the measures in the emergency laws. Fifty-four alleged members of the banned though non-violent Muslim Brotherhood were sentenced by a military court to three-five years’ jail prior to the election.

“The emergency law is not being used only to combat violence,” said Mr Gasser Abdel-Razek, secretary-general of the Cairo Centre for Human Rights. “It’s being used to marginalise any political groups. The law is effective in allowing the state to do whatever it likes, without stopping the violence, which has been ongoing throughout the period the law has been in effect.”

© Financial Times