Lifting state of emergency in Egypt may not change police behavior

Security forces still deployed on streets, and police may still have carte blanche to crack down.

Manu Brabo/AP
A masked policeman stands guard outside of a police academy compound were the trial of ousted President Mohamed Morsi is held in Cairo, Nov. 4, 2013. News outlets and Egyptian officials were left confused Tuesday, Nov. 13, amid contradicting reports on whether Egypt had lifted its three-month state of emergency, which gives security services expanded powers, after the police dispersal of two protest camps in Cairo killed hundreds of Egyptians.

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A flurry of contradicting reports Tuesday on whether Egypt had lifted its three-month state of emergency left news outlets and Egyptian officials confused. But regardless of when it is lifted, legislation either passed or pending in Cairo in the last three months will ensure the curtailment of many freedoms.

The state of emergency, which gives security services expanded powers, was first declared on Aug. 14, after the police dispersal of two protest camps in Cairo killed hundreds of Egyptians. It was aimed at putting an end to demonstrations by supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi and included a curfew that ran from 1 am to 5 am all days but Friday, when it began at 7 pm in hopes of discouraging large protests as Mr. Morsi's supporters left Friday prayer.

A judicial ruling brought it to an end Tuesday, but the government announced that night that it had not received a formal notice, and would leave the state of emergency -- and the curfew that came along with it -- in place until that happened, The New York Times reports.

Washington praised the decision to lift the state of emergency, but expressed concern about new legislation, Agence France-Presse reports. "We welcome the formal lifting of the state of emergency including the curfew," State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said. "However, we would also note that the government is considering other legislation regarding security. We urge the government to respect the rights of all Egyptians."

Life in Cairo after the lifting of the state of emergency may not look all that different from life under it, according to the BBC.

The authorities say security forces will be deployed on main streets and in city centres across the country to tighten control, our correspondent says.

And she adds that stringent new limits on freedom of movement are expected to be introduced soon, in a law regulating public protest.

Human rights campaigners say the proposals will give police the power to ban protests outright.

A draft legislation - currently being considered by Interim President Adly Mahmud Mansour - requires protest organizers to notify police in advance of any meeting of more than 10 people, in public or in private.

Human Rights Watch issued a statement on the legislation banning protests, describing it as giving "carte blanche" to police efforts to halt demonstrations.

The bill would ban all demonstrations near official buildings, give the police absolute discretion to ban any other protest, and allow officers to forcibly disperse overall peaceful protests if even a single protester throws a stone.

The bill would also require organizers to notify the police in advance of any public meeting of more than 10 people in a private or public place. It would allow the police to ban these meetings, which could severely restrict the freedom of assembly of political parties and nongovernmental groups, Human Rights Watch said.  
“This draft law would effectively mandate the police to ban all protests outright and to use force to disperse ongoing protests,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The final law will be an important indicator of the extent to which the new government is going to allow for political space in Egypt.”

Egypt was under a state of emergency for most of former president Hosni Mubarak's rule.

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