Egypt’s military council to expand emergency law to 2012

Ex-spy chief Omar Suleiman testifies in Mubarak trial

Former PM Ebeid, agriculture minister referred to criminal court

Fact-finding commission on Israeli embassy raid issues report

One of Egypt's ruling generals said Monday the military will expand a state of emergency because of a "breach in public security" after protesters stormed Israel's embassy and clashed with police, state news agency MENA reported.

The ruling military council issued a decree to widen the scope of the emergency law -- restricted in 2010 by ousted president Hosni Mubarak to narcotics and terrorism cases -- to target labor strikes and the "spread of false rumors."

It will also target acts that "disrupt traffic," MENA reported.

That could possibly outlaw many demonstrations like the regular protests held after an uprising overthrew Mubarak in February.

"Widening the scope of crimes liable under the emergency law along with terrorism and narcotics is the result of the security conditions the country is undergoing and the breach in public order," the agency quoted General Mamdouh Shahin as saying.

The general, a member of Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, stressed the "necessity of confronting thuggery and all who threaten Egypt's security and harm its reputation abroad."

Those arrested under the law face emergency state security courts, which critics say are unfair and result in harsh sentences.

Protesters clashed with police overnight on Friday after demonstrators stormed a high-rise building housing the Israeli embassy and dumped thousands of documents from a balcony.

Three protesters were killed in the clashes, which left more than 1,000 people wounded. Israel's ambassador and many of his staff were evacuated home.

The incident proved an embarrassment to the country's rulers, with US President Barack Obama calling on Egypt to "honor its international obligations to safeguard the security of the Israeli embassy."

Since the 18-day uprising that ousted Mubarak, Egypt's police force has largely collapsed and the military, unused to civilian policing, has struggled to deal with sporadic and at times deadly unrest.

But critics say widening the emergency law, continuously in place since Islamists assassinated Mubarak's predecessor Anwar Sadat in 1981, is unnecessary and a revival of former practices.

The military had promised that parliamentary elections scheduled by the end of the year would not be conducted under a state of emergency.

"It's a human rights catastrophe," said Hossam Bahgat, the director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a leading rights group.

"It's not only reneging on the promise to lift emergency law, but it revives one of the worst aspects of Mubarak rule and risks introducing the notorious system of administrative detention without charge and trial," he said.

Heba Morayef, a Cairo-based representative of the international rights watchdog Human Rights Watch, called the measure "unnecessary, overly broad and disproportionate."

"This is the classic Mubarak reaction to any perceived security risk," she said. "The military is giving broad and excessive powers to a police force that continues to be abusive and incompetent."

Essam al-Erian, vice president of the influential Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, said "the general trend is in opposition" to the measure.

"There was a promise that elections would be held without the emergency law. What this means is that either the elections will take place under the emergency law or they will be delayed," he said.

The military has not suggested that it would delay the elections.

But the state-owned Al-Akhbar newspaper reported on Monday that the electoral commission agreed in a meeting with military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi to hold separate parliamentary and senate elections rather than simultaneously as planned previously.

Amr Moussa, a leading presidential candidate and former Arab League chief, suggested in an interview published on Monday that the military work on a "road map" with a civilian council on a transition to civilian government.

In the interview with the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, he added that attacking embassies and "Egyptian institutions" was "an attempt to spread chaos and assert lawlessness."

Egypt's ex-intelligence chief Omar Suleiman testified on Tuesday in the trial of former president Hosni Mubarak who faces charges of involvement in the killings of protesters, state television said.

There were no further details about the testimony which was held behind closed doors.

Trial judge Ahmed Refaat, at a September 7 hearing, ordered that Suleiman's testimony and those of two senior military officials be held behind closed doors for reasons of "national security."

Earlier television footage of the first two sessions of the trial which opened August 3 showed the ailing 83-year-old Mubarak, who faces charges of involvement in the killings of protesters and corruption, lying on a stretcher and in a cage in the courtroom.

The charges against Mubarak, who has pleaded not guilty, follow months of protests demanding justice for the roughly 850 people killed during the revolt which ended his regime.

The trial is being held in a police academy once named after Mubarak on Cairo's outskirts.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Egypt's military ruler, was due to take the witness stand on Sunday and chief of the general staff, Sami Anan, was to testify on Monday.

But their testimonies were postponed to September 24 for Tantawi and September 25 for Anan, judicial sources said.

Tantawi, who is the de facto head of state since the fall of Mubarak to a popular uprising in February, faced a last minute difficulty which made him unavailable to testify as scheduled on Sunday, the sources said.

Tantawi is one of the highest profile witnesses called to testify at Mubarak's trial, which has grabbed widespread regional attention.

Former Prime Minister Atef Ebeid and several former Agriculture Ministry officials were referred to the Cairo Criminal Court on Monday on charges of corruption relating to the illegal sale of land.

Among those officials facing charges are former Minister of Agriculture Youssef Wali, Mahmoud Abdel-Bar, head of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Urbanization Department, Ahmed Abdel Fattah, advisor to the minister of agriculture, and two other officials of the ministry.

Also accused are fugitive business tycoon Hussein Salem and his son Khaled.

The officials are charged with allocating a plot of land in Bayadiya, in Luxor, by direct order to Hussein Salem for LE9 million, despite its apparent value of LE209 million, which is considered misappropriation of public funds.

In addition, the land was a natural reserve, and therefore not legally available for sale.

Meanwhile, a fact-finding commission said Wednesday Tahrir protesters didn't attack the Israeli embassy on Friday, a day after 15 political movements and parties condemned the violent clashes with police in Giza.

Clashes between protesters and police outside the Israeli and Saudi embassies and the nearby Giza Security Directorate left three dead and 1,049 injured.

Protesters had earlier destroyed a recently erected wall along the street on which the embassy is located and stormed part of the embassy.

The commission, formed by the National Council for Human Rights, suggested in its report that “criminal elements” are involved in burning the security directorate.

The report also blamed the government for releasing rushed statements without prior investigations, in which “foreign conspiracies” are blamed without evidence or explanation.

On Tuesday, a statement, signed by different political forces including the youth coalition, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, Mohamed ElBaradie as well as Hamdeen Sabahy's camps, condemned the misleading media campaign launched against protesters, depicting them as thugs who aim to destabilize the country.

"The death of six soldiers on the borders by the Israeli army [fueled] extreme hatred against the Zionist embassy, which was faced by complete and shameful silence from the government and the ruling military council," said journalist Rasha Azab, who gave her account of the events during a press conference following the release of the statement.

"The street spoke and reacted by storming the embassy and then the government accused them of being thugs and deliberately clashed with protesters in front of the Giza Security Directorate," Azab added.

She said protesters marched to the Israeli embassy to demolish the wall built to protect the area around the building where it is located, with weak security presence around the embassy that encouraged the enthusiastic crowd to storm the building.

"Security forces were deliberately absent to let the protesters storm the embassy and then clashes started," Azab explained, adding that police trucks started running over protesters and using teargas, which provoked the crowds.

"Central Security Forces (CSF) lured protesters towards the Giza Security Directorate when protesters noticed a fire inside the building," Azab added.

Eyewitness Suzan Ghoneim reiterated Azab's testimony, adding that she saw CSF soldiers entering the security directorate building before the fire broke out.

"The same soldiers then were out of the building wearing civilian clothes and fired at a nearby tree, setting ablaze. Then the fire spread to a nearby police truck," Ghoneim said.

Film director and eyewitness Manal Khaled suggested that "police deliberately left the embassy for protesters to storm, and deliberately provoked protesters by using excessive force to lure them towards the security directorate building. “What are the reasons of that? Did they aim to let the success of the day go in vain?"

Tens of thousands protested in Tahrir Square on the afternoon of Sept. 9, following marches from different parts of the capital, calling for an end to the military trials of civilians and demanding a clear timeline for the transfer of power to a civilian authority.

Tuesday's press conference highlighted the consequent arrest of protesters, which also included passersby.

Wafaa Abdel-Al, mother of Ahmed Abdel-Karim who was arrested near the embassy, said that her son was planning to meet one of his friends when he tried to save the life of a protester shot in the clashes.

"While rescuing the protester, Ahmed saw rocks thrown at a nearby police officer; when Ahmed waved for him to avoid the rocks, the officer arrested him," Abdel Al said.

"Twenty-five CSF soldiers started beating my son until he was taken to prosecution… until he could not feel the pain," Abdel Al added.

Ahmed, along with eight protesters, was imprisoned for 15 days pending investigations by military prosecution, after which they would be referred to state security emergency prosecution.

Following the clashes, the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) declared the activation of all emergency law clauses.

The official Middle East News Agency (MENA) quoted SCAF member and assistant defense minister for legal affairs Mamdouh Shahin as saying on Monday that the reasons behind the amendments have to do with the disruption of public security.

"Extending the scope of crimes on which the emergency law is applied … is because of the security conditions the country has been going through," Shahin said.

Shahin told a TV channel the night before that the law would stay in force until mid 2012.

He stressed the importance of confronting thuggery and whatever threatens Egypt or affects its image internationally.

Shahin explained that the supreme emergency state security court will be hearing the cases on which the law is applied instead of the usual judiciary.

"We want to apply the rules of law not carry out detentions," he said, adding that SCAF took this step after acquiring information about external entities attempting to disrupt stability in Egypt.

Lawyer Ahmed Abdel-Rasoul, defending a number of the detainees, said that the emergency law will make the situation of the detainees more difficult. "The normal penal code enables us to utilize procedures to defend detainees —the newly-amended articles in the emergency law will prevent all these procedures," he said.

Member of the National Front for Justice and Democracy Ahmed Imam said that the SCAF used the sentiment against the Zionist regime to send certain messages to the international community showing that this country cannot be ruled without emergency law.

"This revolution will never be complete until a civilian authority controls the military authority," Imam said.