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President George W. Bush's "Global War on Terror" has produced the unintended consequence of bringing the United States ever-closer to some of the world's most repressive regimes.

Egypt provides a classic example.

Last week, over the objections of the country's human rights advocates, Egypt extended the 20-year-old "emergency" law that gives the government power to arrest and detain people without charges, and refused to moderate its campaign to further compromise the independence of an already weak judiciary.

These two developments provide insight into how the Global War on Terror is consistently trumping moves toward good governance and civil society that could be powerful weapons against the very terrorists Egypt seeks to defeat.

Following what many believe to be last year's deeply flawed presidential election, the country's judges' demanded that they be allowed to investigate reports of widespread irregularities, violence towards voters and judges supervising the polls, and vote rigging.

The government's response was to strip six of the magistrates of their immunity from police questioning and thus open the door to criminal charges of defamation and insult.

Human rights organizations wrote Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif that they were "concerned for a number of human rights violations that took place with a renewed strength in the last months in Egypt, and, in particular, for the repeated limitations to freedom of expression and opinion, whose victims were different groups of the Egyptian civil society".

The fate of the judges remains in limbo.

Egypt first adopted its Emergency Law in 1981 in response to the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, and at its height was used to detain more than 30,000 prisoners indefinitely without charge.

Mr. Mubarak has had the law renewed every three years since -- and today human rights groups estimate that there are approximately 15,000 uncharged prisoners in Egypt's jails.

The law expressly allows the authorities to hold individuals for up to six months without being charged or tried. But in practice, legal experts said, the government goes through the motions of technically releasing prisoners after six months, and then re-arresting them, without ever having actually let them go.

In effect, the law is the fire blanket the government has thrown over all dissent, including press freedom.

During his presidential campaign - the first in the country's history that allowed multiple candidates -- President Mubarak vowed repeatedly to repeal the state of emergency in favor of a new anti-terrorism law. He received the enthusiastic support of civil society and human rights groups, journalists, lawyers, and other professional organizations, and even members of the political opposition.

A typical civil society response came from the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and the Human Rights Association for the Assistance of Prisoners.

They wrote the Prime Minister that they "consider the termination of the state of emergency by the Egyptian authorities as a step forward towards the respect of Human Rights in Egypt and the strengthening of democratic values in the country. The extension of the state of emergency in Egypt had has been the source of several violations of human rights, and was used by the authorities to repress political opponents and to severely limit the freedom of expression and association."

The organizations also encouraged the government to consider the demands of the Egyptian Press Syndicate and to examine journalists' demands for the reform of laws governing the press. In particular, the groups expressed concern about the clauses on defamation, "so as to decriminalize the press related offences in order to guarantee freedom of expression and democracy in the country".

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WILLIAM FISHER Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)
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