Bill Van Esveld [Arthur Helton Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Division, Human Rights Watch]: "The Egyptian government has extended for two more years Law 162 of 1958 that authorizes prolonged detention without charge and severe limitations on freedom of assembly and expression. Egypt's state of emergency, first implemented in 1967, has been continuously in force throughout President Hosni Mubarak's 27-year rule. The emergency law has provided a dubious basis in law for the government's systematic stifling of political opposition and violations of individual rights.
Law 162 allows the executive to indefinitely detain persons without charge, and an estimated 5,000 persons remain in long-term detention without charge or trial under the law. The law also allows authorities to refer civilians to a separate system of military or exceptional state security courts, whose composition is determined by the president and where the accused has no right of appeal, in violation of international fair trial standards. In February 2006 President Mubarak, using his authority as commander-in-chief, ordered a group of 40 senior Muslim Brotherhood members to be tried by a military court shortly after an ordinary criminal court had dismissed charges against 17 of them. The military tribunal recently sentenced 25 of the group to prison terms of up to 10 years.
The emergency law allows the government to prohibit strikes, demonstrations and public meetings. On April 6 and 7, 2008, security forces prevented textile workers from striking in the Nile delta city of Mahalla, violently dispersed protests against rising costs of food and basic goods, and detained scores, including many on-line activists who had promoted the strike. When Egypt's prosecutor-general ordered the release of 20 detainees a week later, the Interior Ministry invoked the emergency law to re-arrest them, according to news reports.
These human rights violations have made the law widely unpopular. Opposition parties, the Muslim Brotherhood, NGOs, UN treaty-monitoring bodies, and Egypt's government-backed National Council for Human Rights have objected to the law. Nonetheless, human rights defenders are anxious at the prospect of a counter-terrorism law that the government says is being drafted so that the state of emergency will no longer be "necessary.""