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Egypt Announces Renewal of Emergency Laws

In the wake of last week's deadly bombings in the Sinai resort of Dahab, the Egyptian parliament voted to extend the country's state of emergency for two years. Opposition leaders and human-rights activists criticize the decision as an excuse to crack down on dissent in the Arab world's largest country.

Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, in appealing for the extension, told lawmakers it is justified, following a series of terrorist bombings targeting beach resorts on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, and recent sectarian clashes between Muslims and Christians in the Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria.

The prime minister says current conditions in Egypt make it crucial for the government to enhance the powers of the security services to enable them to move swiftly against terrorist and extremist movements.

Triple bombings in Sinai Monday killed 18 and injured at least 85 at the Red Sea resort of Dahab. It was the third such attack in 18 months.

Two days later, two suicide bombers blew themselves up in attacks targeting international peacekeepers and Egyptian police in Northern Sinai, though they only succeeded in killing themselves.

Egyptian security forces are scouring Sinai's rugged desert mountains for suspects in the attacks.

More than 10 people have been detained, in addition to 70 local Bedouin, who are being held for questioning. At least one suspect was killed Sunday in a firefight with police outside the Northern Sinai city of El Arish.

Egypt's Emergency Laws restrict civil liberties and allow security forces sweeping powers to detain people without charging them. The laws have been in place since President Hosni Mubarak took power following the assassination of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, in 1981.

During his re-election campaign last year, Mr. Mubarak promised to replace the Emergency Laws with new anti-terrorism laws, but he hinted earlier this month that an extension of the state of emergency was likely. Without Parliamentary renewal, the Emergency Laws would have lapsed at the beginning of June.

Fadi Al-Qadi, a spokesman for the non-government group, Human Rights Watch, says that, although the Egyptian government has promised the extension is only temporary, any anti-terror replacement law may simply replicate and institutionalize the country's strict state of emergency.

"We fear that a new anti-terrorism law might not actually fix the problems within the emergency law," said Fadi Al-Qadi. "It might also create the same problems, in terms of restrictions of public freedoms, freedom to public assembly and to organize, and will probably have some special status for indictment and arrest of people."

Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Essam El-Erian condemned the extension of the measures, saying Mr. Mubarak has broken his promise to the Egyptian people. He said, invoking the Sinai bombings and sectarian tensions to justify the renewal of the Emergency Laws is simply a pretext to crack down on political opposition in Egypt.

"That is just an excuse, and the most important thing is to prevent incidents, terrorism, or any tensions inside the country, and this needs democracy and development, not emergency status," said Essam El-Erian.

El-Erian says the Brotherhood will fight the Emergency Laws by voting against them in Parliament and protesting in public with other, smaller opposition groups.

The banned, but tolerated Brotherhood is the largest opposition bloc in the 454-member Parliament, but the group's 88 seats leave them far short of being able to defeat the overwhelming majority of Mr. Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party.