Among the demands of Egyptian protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square, one of the most central is constitutional reform that will prevent a repeat of the concentration of power achieved under President Hosni Mubarak.
Vice President Omar Suleiman announced Feb. 8 that a committee had been formed to discuss constitutional reforms necessary for free and fair elections, but many protesters are wary that the reforms will be only superficial.
Below are a few of the constitutional provisions that have served to limit Egypt’s opposition and cement the government’s power.
Perhaps most fundamental to Mr. Mubarak’s grasp on power is the fact that Egypt has been under a state of emergency continuously since 1981, when Anwar Sadat was assassinated and Mubarak replaced him as president. The emergency laws allow the regime to break up public demonstrations, conduct searches without approval, detain suspects indefinitely, arrest them without trial, and try civilians in a military court.
The Egyptian government says that the emergency law is crucial in its fight against terrorism and drug-trafficking, but it has often been used against journalists, activists, and political opponents. In Feb. 2010, Mubarak pledged to replace it with a more narrow anti-terrorism law. But several months later he instead eased the emergency law and said it applies only in the case of terrorism and drug cases – a move that did little to quiet criticism.
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