CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian activists and politicians accused the ruling military leaders of breaking a promise to end emergency law, after authorities said they would reintroduce special security courts following an attack on the Israeli embassy.
Eight months after protesters toppled President Hosni Mubarak and the military took power on an interim basis, many supporters of the protest movement say they are concerned that the military rulers are backsliding on reform pledges.
Ending emergency law, seen as a tool of Mubarak’s repression, has long been a key demand.
Israel pulled its ambassador out of Egypt after protesters stormed the building housing Israel’s embassy on Friday night.
Egypt’s military rulers said they would try suspects in emergency state security courts. Emergency law would now apply in cases such as blocking of roads, publishing false information and weapons possession, they said.
The measures add to a list of developments that activists say worry them, including the banning of cameras from important trials including that of Mubarak himself, and the army’s failure so far to set a firm date for a parliamentary election.
“The new procedure violate the constitutional decree that the military council issued after Mubarak, in which it pledged to end the state of emergency within six months and said a public referendum had to take place for it to be extended,” Mohamed Adel, leader of the April 6 youth group, told Reuters.
“Egyptian law has many rules against thugs and terrorism, so I still don’t see a reason to extend emergency law,” he added.
Presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei said: “It is the normal right of every Egyptian to be tried in front of an ordinary judge, but it is unfortunately not what we see as we are relying more on military and extraordinary courts.”
Emergency law was widely applied under Mubarak’s rule to stifle opposition. The law, in place for decades, gives the state ultimate powers to question or detain citizens.
It was due to be lifted before the parliamentary election which is expected anytime starting November. No poll date has yet been set, although the army has said procedures for a vote, such as voter registration, will start in September.
The Muslim Brotherhood, one of Egypt’s most organised political groups, condemned the use of emergency courts in one of its strongest statements against the military to date. The group, expected to benefit from an early vote, has tended to take a softer line than other activists in the past.
“We confirm our rejection of any attempt to abuse the events to issue martial laws or decrease the margin of freedoms,” the group’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice party, said.
The Islamist group condemned violence by protesters targeting the embassy and other police sites, but also blamed the army for not taking a tough enough stance against Israel.
Presidential hopeful and former Brotherhood leader Abdel Moneim Abul Futuh said he feared the new security measures were “part of a pre-prepared scenario to take over the revolution.”
“I warn the governing power in Egypt against moving forward in this path. And I hope everyone knows the Egyptian people will not allow such scenarios and will not allow their revolution to be aborted.”
Egyptians marched on the Israeli embassy in Cairo on Friday, demolished a wall built around the embassy building to protect it and stormed the Nile tower block that houses the mission.
They clashed with police through the night in scenes reminiscent of some of the most violent clashes during the uprising. Police shot in the air and fired teargas. State newspaper Al Ahram said the death toll had risen to four from three after one man died of his injuries.
Many Egyptians are angry at Israel after five Egyptian border guards were killed by Israeli troops chasing cross-border raiders last month. Egypt initially said it would withdraw its ambassador from Tel Aviv, although it did not act on the threat.
Israel’s peace agreement with Egypt has been a foundation of its security for more than three decades, and Israelis are worried that Egypt without Mubarak’s firm rule could adopt more hostile policies.
Editing by Edmund Blair