By Yolande Knell
BBC News, Cairo
Many people have been beaten and dozens detained in demonstrations
Egypt's parliament has again renewed the emergency law which has been in place for nearly 30 years since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat by an Islamist militant.
However it said that new legal limits would be introduced, guaranteeing that it would be used only to counter terrorism and trade in illegal drugs.
The government's political opponents claim the legislation is used to target them in the name of national security.
In recent weeks democracy campaigners defying the official ban on public gatherings to hold rallies in downtown Cairo have found themselves surrounded by hundreds of riot police.
"The police are circling the whole area, forbidding us from marching to parliament with our just demands," said activist Sadiqa Abu Sada at a recent protest calling for constitutional reforms and the lifting of emergency law.
"Three people are considered to be an assembly and if there are more than three this gives them the right to take you and just put you in jail."
Many people have been beaten and dozens detained in demonstrations since April.
"Anyone can be arrested at any time. We have a lot of friends who are in jail now with no charges and no evidence," comments Amal Sharaf from the April 6 Youth Movement.
"Emergency law means repression for Egyptians. We are not allowed to open our mouths."
The law gives wide powers to the security forces allowing restrictions on movement, arbitrary arrests and prolonged detentions without trial.
Cases can be prosecuted before state security courts without the usual right to appeal.
Announcing the extension of emergency law for two years, Moufid Shehab, minister of legal and parliamentary affairs told journalists: "If a person is detained for another reason not related to terrorism or an act of narcotics trafficking, then that is prohibited after today."
However few dissidents think the new guarantees will make a difference.
Series of bombings
The activities of Egypt's biggest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, are closely monitored and its members routinely rounded up.
"During the last 15 years more than 30,000 of our members, Muslim Brothers, were arrested and released and arrested again," says senior leader Essam El-Erian, who has just returned to work after two months in prison.
"This is the fourth time in one decade and the sixth time in my life to be arrested during [President] Mubarak's regime," he reflects.
"I think emergency status is just a stick in the government's hand to stop political activity, political reform and political change. The ordinary law is enough for facing any terrorist."
Even with the emergency law in place, Egypt has experienced attacks.
A series of bombings in Egypt's Red Sea resorts between 2004 and 2006 killed about 130 people.
New anti-terrorism legislation has been promised by the president
Officials insist there is a continued threat from extremists and compare their anti-terrorism measures to those adopted in the United States and Britain.
"Emergency law like any other law that fights terrorism addresses the threats that jeopardise the well-being of society," comments Maged Botros, who is on the policy committee of the ruling National Democratic Party.
"I can see these precautionary actions restricting the rights of people, but this is not to protect the regime as people allege. They are exceptional restrictions.
"You might sacrifice certain rights for certain people at certain times to protect the whole people for the whole future."
New anti-terrorism legislation to replace the emergency law has long been promised by the president.
However, with important parliamentary and presidential elections due this year and next, opposition figures say they were not surprised to see it delayed again.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the former United Nations diplomat, who is now a high-profile campaigner for reform, says it is leading to a state of political stagnation.
"To me it's shameful that we have 30 years of emergency law," he says. "It's a law that reduces people's right to an unacceptable limit for no good reason at all."
"The earlier we put that law behind us the better we can start developing a society that is based on the basic freedoms that everybody should enjoy.
"That's the road to stability, that's the road to political and economic development."