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What about That Egyptian Anti-Terrorist Law?

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Anti-Terrorist Lawby Jacob G. Hornberger

There’s one part of the dictatorial tyranny in Egypt against which the Egyptian people are protesting that might make American statists very uncomfortable, which is perhaps why they’re not focusing too much attention on it. It’s the part that deals with the temporary “emergency law” that the Mubarak dictatorship enacted after assuming the reins of power with the assassination of President Anwar el –Sadat in 1982.

Can you guess why American statists might feel a bit uncomfortable with that part of the Mubarak tyranny against which the Egyptian people are protesting?

The Egyptian dictatorship’s response to the Sadat assassination was similar to the U.S. government’s response to the 9/11 attacks. In Egypt the assassination was used to justify an emergency law that empowered the dictator to arrest people without charge, detain people indefinitely, curtail freedom of speech and assembly, and to create a special security court to try terrorists.

Sound familiar? After the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government adopted its enemy combatant doctrine, opened up its prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, embraced indefinite detention and torture, suspended habeas corpus, opened up secret prison camps in foreign counties, kidnapped and renditioned people to foreign regimes (including Egypt) to be tortured, announced that its anti-terrorist operations were beyond the reach of the federal courts, and even held that if an accused terrorist was acquitted by a federal court such a verdict would not be binding on the U.S. military.

Interestingly, the Mubarak dictatorship sought and secured its temporary emergency powers from the Egyptian Parliament, while the Bush administration simply implemented its temporary emergency measures by decree. Well, except for the Patriot Act, which Congress was asked to approve.

According to this May 10, 2010, article in the New York Times, Egyptian officials promised that their emergency law would only be temporary and would apply only to terrorists and drug dealers.

Sound familiar? U.S. authorities have always maintained that their emergency powers were temporary too — that they would be lifted as soon as the war on terrorism was over. While U.S. officials have always claimed that their emergency powers would apply only to terrorists, there have been repeated implications that they could ultimately be applied to drug dealers, especially in areas where the war on terrorism intersected with the war on drugs.

Given the close relationship between the U.S. government and the Egyptian dictatorship —and especially between the U.S. military and the Egyptian military — for the last 30 years, one cannot help but wonder whether the Egyptian dictatorship’s emergency measures weren’t used as model for the U.S. government’s emergency measures after 9/11.

According to the Times, Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif said that “the government was having difficulty finding the right balance between protecting the nation and civil liberties, comparing the challenge to President Obama’s difficulties in closing down the prison at Guantanamo Bay and comparing the law to the Patriot Act, adopted in the United States after Sept. 11, 2001.”

It seems that the Egyptian people have achieved a breakthrough and have come to recognize that their government’s emergency powers are a crock and a guise for tyranny. That’s not likely to sit well with American statists. They are still holding fast to the notion that that their government’s emergency powers are a pro-freedom device to keep Americans safe from the terrorists and the drug dealers.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.


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