Egypt's notorious emergency law expires

Egypt's notorious emergency law expired Thursday, ending more than 30 years of broad powers to arrest and detain for a police force accused of widespread human rights abuses.

The military rulers who took charge from ousted President Hosni Mubarak indicated they have no intention to renew the law, saying they will continue to be in charge of the country's security after it expired and until an elected civilian authority was in charge.

The law was a defining and much-resented feature of ousted President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian, 29-year regime. In place since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981, the law was almost automatically renewed every few years; the last time in May 2010.

"The significance of the expiration of the law is huge," said Heba Morayef, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. "It is the symbolism attached to it" as one of the main tools of oppression under Mubarak's rule, she said.

"This is an end of exceptional measures that provided cover to human rights abuses such as torture and enforced disappeared," she said.

After Mubarak's ouster in an uprising last year, the military rulers who took over amended the law to limit its use to cases of thuggery and the spreading of rumors.

Mubarak's regime justified the continued use of the law to crack down on terrorism, drug trafficking and to impose speedy justice on activities deemed threats to national security. But human rights groups and activists said it gave security agencies extensive powers to detain, try without defendant rights, and crack down on opponents.

The uprising was partially fueled because of the abuses of the police force and it vented anger against the symbols of the security agencies. The lifting of the law was a key demand by the pro-democracy youth groups that engineered the uprising 15 months ago.

Days into the uprising, the police force all but disappeared from the streets, leaving the country's security largely in the hands of the military rulers. Since, there have been calls to reform the police force but they have not really gotten off the ground.

On Thursday, the military rulers who took charge from Mubarak said they will continue to be in charge of the country's security after the expiration of the law and until they transfer power to an elected civilian authority.

The military had said it will hand over power to a democratically elected government by the end of June. A runoff between two top presidential candidates on June 16-17 is the final phase of the transition to democratic rule.

Under military rule, restrictions were put in place on renewing the emergency laws, requiring that parliament would have to approve any renewal and a public referendum would also be needed.

Under the 15 months of military rule since Mubarak's ouster, human rights groups have blamed the military for its own set of human rights violations through its use of military tribunals for civilians and detention of activists.