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Egyptians Protest 30 Years of Emergency Law

Protester demands peaceful changes to Egypt's security and election laws, Cairo, 03 May 2010
Protester demands peaceful changes to Egypt's security and election laws, Cairo, 03 May 2010

Egypt's decades-long emergency law makes it difficult for opposition groups to rally. So perhaps it is not surprising that at Monday's demonstration against the measure, there were more police than protesters.

Some of the 100 or so protesters tried to march from Cairo's Tahrir Square to parliament just a few blocks away. They did not get there. Surrounding them were ring after ring of riot police, and a scuffle broke out as the demonstrators tried to break through.

The protesters are getting just about as far with their political demands. Parliamentary elections this year and a presidential vote next year appear likely to be held under the heavy hand of Egypt's emergency law - in effect since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

Lawmaker Mohammad el-Omda says "enough." He argues that under the pretext of security, the Egyptian nation has been "enslaved" for 30 years. The reality, he says, is that the law is used to control power and usurp wealth.

The government argues the measure, which is up for review, has helped maintain stability. But the price has been high - arbitrary and indefinite detention, censorship and limited political rights.

The protesters, led by Muslim Brotherhood lawmakers and members of the April 6th youth movement, also are pressing for a reform of Egypt's constitution. In particular, they want to amend articles 76, 77 and 88, which govern how someone qualifies for president and allow an unlimited number of terms a president can serve.

President Hosni Mubarak, 81-years old and in power as long as the emergency law, may run yet again.

The crowd chants slogans decrying Mr. Mubarak and his son, Gamal, widely seen as being groomed to lead the ruling National Democratic Party.

George Ishac is the former head of the opposition Kefaya movement, which seeks to prevent what it calls hereditary rule.

"We are suffering from this regime. We are suffering from NDP, we are suffering from many things and we want to solve all these problems. We want to collect ourselves and move in one unity to say that we do not accept this regime," he said.

But the hurdles ahead of anyone seeking to challenge the ruling elite are high. Supporters of possible presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei, the former U.N. nuclear chief, have faced harassment at home. And when some were expelled from Kuwait last month, any spark of protest was quickly dampened by a massive police presence around the Kuwaiti embassy.

Demonstrations by other groups are small as well. Labor activists protesting the stagnation that has kept their wages extremely low have rallied around parliament with little success. Whether these small groups can coalesce in the months before elections is being watched closely by the opposition and government alike.