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Why some Egyptians see military rulers as worse than Mubarak

Egypt's military rulers this weekend broadened the use of the country's emergency law, a despised tool of Mubarak's regime, instead of lifting as they had promised to do.

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The emergency law was used widely under Mubarak to suppress civil rights. It forbade unauthorized gatherings and allowed long-term detention without trial. In 2010, Mubarak pledged to use the law only in cases of terrorism and drug trafficking, but his regime violated that promise.

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Since the uprising brought the military to power, the generals have not used the law extensively, relying instead on the Military Code of Justice for the authority to try 12,000 civilians in military tribunals. It has used the emergency law in several cases, including referring suspects of sectarian violence to state security courts. But indefinite detentions under the law had ceased.

Riot police need more restraint, not more power

Ms. Morayef says the appropriate response to the events of last week would have been twofold: First, realizing the urgent need for reform of the riot police, which are notorious for using excessive force to quell protests, leading to crises. In the clashes between police and protesters at the embassy Friday night, three people were killed and more than 1,000 wounded, according to the Health Ministry.

Second, says Morayef, the military should be looking into why the embassy attack was allowed to happen in the first place. Witnesses say security forces did not intervene until protesters had already breached the embassy.

“What you need to be doing is looking at your policing, as opposed to doing the exact opposite and giving more discretionary powers to the police force, which already abuses the power it has,” she says.

The military council’s move instead toward a crackdown and a revival of the emergency law is an echo of how Mubarak dealt with crises. Hisham Kassem, an independent publisher, says the military council’s response is “nervous, jittery.” They are strained from the pressure of recent demonstrations and protests, he says. Those who speak with council members regularly say they, like Mubarak, know no other way to deal with challenges than to throw security forces at them and crack down hard.

Al Jazeera fighting back

The closing of the Al Jazeera affiliate, too, is a return to Mubarak’s tactics. Authorities accused the channel of operating without a license. But Islam Lotfy, a lawyer who is working on behalf of the channel in the current case, said the affiliate applied for the proper licenses four months ago, and authorities told the channel to continue broadcasting while the paperwork went through.

The way the police raided the office – barging in without a warrant, bringing 21 officers from different branches of police and National Security, and arresting a technician – was the same way it would have been done last year under the Mubarak regime, says Mr. Lotfy.

He sees it as an attempt at intimidation aimed not only at the television channel but also at other media. But the channel is fighting back with a lawsuit. “Now they are manipulating us. But we are going to pursue them, to force them to announce if they will give us permission [to broadcast]. And if not, they will have to give justification for this refusal,” he says.

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