Egyptian Officials Plan To Lift Emergency Law
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
To Egypt now, where that country's military rulers announced today that legislative elections will be held next fall. The military also announced it will end a three decades old state of emergency before voting takes place. That law was used during former President Hosni Mubarak's rule to suppress dissent and justify human rights violations.
From Cairo, NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports on Egypt's latest step towards democracy.
General MAMDOUH SHAHIN (Member, Supreme Council): (Foreign language spoken)
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: At a spirited news conference here in the posh Cairo suburb of Heliopolis, General Mamdouh Shahin didn't specify when the hated law would be lifted. The state of emergency was imposed after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981. Critics say it was used to suppress political opposition, rather than fight terrorism as was intended.
Shahin, who is a member of the military council that has ruled Egypt since February 11th, said the state of emergency would be gone by the time parliamentary elections are held in September. Shahin said there is no date set yet for presidential elections, which the military council wants held before it turns over power to a civilian government. That means the council will remain in charge well past the six-month deadline it set for itself.
Reached by phone, Egyptian historian and analyst Mahmoud Sabit says it's not because the military necessarily wants to stay in power.
Mr. MAHMOUD SABIT (Historian and Analyst): I'm pretty sure they'd like to get themselves off the streets, which is what they've been doing, because they themselves have been overwhelmed with the kind of civil problems they don't want to deal with.
NELSON: What Sabit is referring to is the growing crime rate, continuing labor strikes, and the rising cost of food and supplies that have plagued Egypt since the revolution began in late January.
General SHAHIN: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: At the news conference, General Shahin also outlined the rules for political parties that wants to take part in the upcoming polls. The country has had few such parties. Other than the former ruling National Democratic Party, which was brought down with the revolution, Shahin said any group aspiring to be a political party must have at least 5,000 followers spread out over no fewer than 10 governorates.
A committee of independent judges will vet the parties before they become official. But the general said a strict ban remains against religious parties, continuing a policy that predates Mubarak's rule.
The religious ban means the Muslim Brotherhood, which is considered a major contender in the upcoming elections because of its political experience and well-established base, can't technically run candidates. Instead, it plans to form an offshoot party, says historian Sabit.
Mr. SABIT: So they'll probably get away with getting a party out there and fielded. On the other hand, the extremist Islamist elements will not. And I think that's probably why that's been put in place - to have the tools to where they can elect to curb them or not. You know?
NELSON: Meanwhile, military officials refused to answer questions on Mubarak's whereabouts. He left Cairo for his Red Sea vacation home after resigning last month. After today's news conference, the military posted a communique on Facebook denying Mubarak had left the country, as some news outlets have reported.
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.
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