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Page last updated at 09:12 GMT, Tuesday, 10 June 2008 10:12 UK

Egyptian voices on emergency law

The Egyptian parliament has extended the country's emergency law for another two years, despite earlier promises to replace it with a new anti-terrorism law.

The state of emergency has been in force in Egypt since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981. Government supporters say it brings stability, opponents say it is a smokescreen for widespread abuse of power. Seven Egyptians give their views.

KHADIGA MERGHANI, 52, CIVIL SERVANT

Khadiga al-Merghani

The government renewed the law so it could continue being corrupt and continue terrifying people.

I work downtown and see what happens to demonstrators; they beat them mercilessly every time.

However, I was surprised they renewed the law because in his election campaign, the president said they would cancel it.

It seems they can't stay in power without a law like this.

MILLAD, 26, HAIRDRESSER

Millad

I have never heard about this emergency law and I don't think it means anything.

I live in an area where it is normal to see people beating or killing each other on the streets. The police don't even interfere.

My mother went to our neighbour's wedding yesterday, it was on the street.

She came running back home after someone was shot at the wedding!

This is terrorism and the government does nothing about it. What laws are you talking about?

AHMED MAHER, 27, CIVIL ENGINEER

I was driving to work in New Cairo on 7 May, when an unmarked van pulled up in front of me.

Men in civilian clothes pulled me into the van, where they handcuffed and blindfolded me.

They took me to the police station where I was beaten and insulted.

From there I was taken to Lazoghli prison, where they stripped me down to my underwear, threatened to rape me with a stick, and continued kicking, beating and insulting me, and dragging me across the floor.

The blows fell mostly on my back and neck. Then suddenly the beating stopped and they wore gloves and applied lotion to my back in an apparent attempt to reduce the bruising.

I kept asking, "Why am I here?". They just insulted me and asked me for the password of the 4 May Facebook group.

This was the group I started with some friends [on the social networking website Facebook] to call for a strike.

They asked me about other group members - for their phone numbers and addresses. They don't understand the internet; of course I'd never met these Facebook friends.

They finally released me and a police officer warned me to stop calling for demonstrations and strikes on Facebook.

I used to be scared of being arrested and being beaten, but now it's happened to me, I no longer am.

We are all going to die one day, so we should at least die with dignity. I am going to carry on as before.

Our demands are simple: we need a better income and this is why our Facebook group is a success.

SAYED KHALIL, 29, FOOD SUBSIDIES DISTRIBUTOR

Sayed Khalil

It makes no difference whether they renew the law or cancel it. Either way, it's just a paper decision. The authorities will still do exactly what they want.

The Egyptian people are poor; they don't cause trouble and they don't care about these sorts of laws.

Nothing changes in this country, the Egyptian authorities don't want reform; they pass laws without thinking.

For example, when the government extended its food subsidies programme to reach more people, it was done without a proper system. People were queuing here from dawn until midnight.

These are the laws that need restructuring and reform, not the emergency law.

IHAB SALLAM, 35, LAWYER

Ihab Sallam

I expected the law to be renewed because it was the only choice the government had.

The government has no legal solution for all the people it has imprisoned without trial. If the law were cancelled, it would either have to release them, or put them all on trial, which would take time.

It has also yet to find a way of dealing with the new tools used by the opposition, such as the social networking group Facebook.

The emergency law as it stands helps the authorities to deal with all this. I don't see it lasting for another two years, though.

I think the government will come up with a different solution within the year, in the form of the new terrorism law. It will be able to use this new law against Islamist organisations and activists at the same time.

The problem is, the terrorism law is worse than the current emergency law. And the government has changed the constitution, so it will be harder for us lawyers to challenge it.

NADA KARAM, 18, RETAIL WORKER

Nada Karam

I have never heard of this law and I can't imagine how it is possible for the government to have something like this.

Why is no one talking about it? Why did people - journalists and activists - allow this to happen?

I think the law was renewed simply because no one said "no".

I work from nine in the morning until nine in the evening. I get paid LE 700 ($130; 66) a month. I left school because my family couldn't afford to let me stay on.

I've been working in clothes shops for the past five years.

MOHAMMED AHMED, 19, STUDENT

Mohamed Ahmed

They renewed the law so they can carry on insulting us.

Yesterday the police stopped me and a friend; they searched us and looked at our cards, all the while speaking foul language.

We are law students, but it didn't mean anything to them. They just want to show people that they are police and they can do anything.

Another time, the police broke our neighbour's door, she is a very old woman.

They searched the house and broke her fridge and her furniture, they even broke her bed, claiming that she was hiding something.

They only do this to poor people. They leave beggars, drug addicts, and thieves; they only bother with poor people who do nothing wrong.

This is the emergency law.


Pictures and text by Lina Wardani.



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