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Egypt lifts unpopular emergency law

File photo of Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, who said this state of emergency should have no future.

Story highlights

  • Human Rights Watch urges an investigation into abuses committed under the law
  • The emergency law was a focal point for anti-Mubarak demonstrators
  • It was first enacted in 1958, but suspended during Sadat's rule
  • The unpopular law returned after Mubarak took power in 1981

Egypt's emergency law -- which was in place for more than 30 years -- has been lifted, a spokesman for the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said Thursday.

The unpopular and wide-ranging law became a focal point for demonstrations demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak more than a year ago.

The emergency law gave authorities broad leeway to arrest citizens and hold them indefinitely without charges, according to Human Rights Watch. It was first enacted in 1958.

Although it was suspended during the rule of President Anwar Sadat, it had been in place since Mubarak took power in 1981, according to the group.

Abolishing the emergency law was on top of the lists of demands announced by pro-democracy protesters during the 2011 uprising.

The law was partially suspended by the country's military rulers early this year, but critics said that move didn't go far enough.

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Human Rights Watch urged Egypt's new parliament to act Wednesday, saying it had "an opportunity to close an abusive chapter in Egypt's history" by ending all measures related to the law when its current extension expired Thursday.

"The Egyptian parliament should make sure that this state of emergency, a hallmark of Hosni Mubarak's abusive police state, has no future," Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in an online statement.

"Parliament should also initiate a comprehensive investigation into human rights violations that flourished under the emergency law, and the public prosecutor should make sure that the key people responsible for systematic torture and enforced disappearance are prosecuted."

The rights group quotes the Muslim Brotherhood's presidential candidate, Mohamed Morsi, as saying Tuesday: "There is no going back to the state of emergency, we do not need the state of emergency ... the existing laws are sufficient."

Morsi is one of two candidates who made it through a first round of voting this month. He will face former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik in a June 16-17 runoff vote.

The head of Egypt's ruling military council, Hussein Tantawi, announced the partial suspension of the emergency law in January. But opposition figures said the suspension was simply a sop to appease protesters.

The suspension did not include crimes by "thugs" who commit acts of violence against citizens or use weapons to destroy public and government property, officials said.