New York Times ‘Alarmed’ by Raids on IRI’s Offices in Egypt

Egypt’s Partial Step
The New York Times

Egypt’s military junta showed some political sense on Tuesday when it announced the easing of a longtime state of emergency law, a hated symbol of authoritarian rule under President Hosni Mubarak — and now. The generals clearly hope to placate activists who had planned new protests for Wednesday, the anniversary of the revolt that led to Mr. Mubarak’s ouster.

Whether they intend to significantly change their behavior is another matter. Instead of just repealing the 1981 law, as it should have, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi announced that the military government would limit its use of extrajudicial arrests and detentions to “thuggery.”

That’s a broad loophole for generals who have used the malleable “thuggery” charge before as an all-purpose way to go after anyone they chose. More than 800 Egyptians were killed in the past year as the military used excessive force to break up demonstrations and torture detainees. And more than 12,000 civilians were referred to military tribunals, according to Human Rights Watch.

There is positive news. The military allowed elections to proceed and, on Monday, Egypt’s first freely elected Parliament in six decades held its opening session. Islamists dominate the new legislature, but the main party, the Muslim Brotherhood, seems to be acting responsibly.

The generals, however, have refused to cede power until the end of June, after a new constitution is ratified and a president elected. And they insist on negotiating certain issues — including what the constitution will say on civilian oversight of the military — solely with the Brotherhood.

We are also alarmed by the junta’s raids and continued interrogations of foreign-financed groups, including the United States-based National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and Freedom House. So, rightly, are some members of Congress.

Egypt faces many challenges, including a serious economic crisis. If the junta does not do a better job of supporting a democratic transition, the Obama administration will have a hard time certifying that Egypt meets new Congressional conditions for $2 billion in annual American aid, most of which goes to the army.

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