CAIRO – An Egyptian court suspended Tuesday a government decision allowing military police and intelligence to arrest civilians, a setback for the country's military rulers after the decree drew an outcry from opponents who accused them of trying to impose martial law.
The Justice Ministry issued a decree June 13 that allowed military police and intelligence agents to arrest civilians for even minor offenses such as traffic violations. Rights activists feared the new powers essentially reproduced the country's hated emergency law, which had expired just two weeks earlier after more than 30 years in force. The emergency law granted broad powers of arrest and detention to police that were abused over the years and fed the popular anger that led to last year's uprising.
Critics said the new powers of detention could extend the rule of the generals, even if they transfer power to the elected president by the end of this month as promised.
"This [court ruling] is the best possible way to have such a repressive law struck down," said Heba Morayef, a researcher with Human Rights Watch in Egypt. "It is a pretty significant decision against a decree that would have permanently given the military this right of law enforcement and encroachment on civilian life."
Military officials said at the time that the new powers were only meant to fill a security vacuum resulting from the uprising when the police force collapsed and disappeared from the streets during the first days of mass protests.
The government, which was appointed by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, can appeal the court decision.