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18 Apr 2006: ISS Today: Egypt Frees Hundreds of Militants
18 April 2006



Egypt`s Ministry of Interior has announced the release of some 900 members of the militant group Gamaa Islamiya. It said the releases took place over the last 10 days and that one of the founders of the group, Najeh Ibrahim, was among those freed.




The announcement by General Habib Ibrahim El Adly, the Minister of Interior came at a time of renewed anxieties over Egypt`s domestic security situation. This is not the first time that Egypt has released members of al-Gama`a al-Islamiyya, the group responsible for a number of attacks against the Egyptian government and western tourists during the 1990`s: in 2003 Egypt released 2,000 prisoners under an amnesty to mark the anniversary of the 1973 war with Israel (1). However, this announcement should be seen within the context of the extent of arrests made in which Egypt, when confronted with a challenge to its domestic security, tends to round up not only suspected terrorists but also the relatives of suspects. For example, as a result of the attacks at the temple in Luxor on 17 November 1997, Egyptian security forces launched a stringent crackdown against radical Islamists. According to human rights groups, approximately 16,000 people are still behind bars (2). After the Taba attacks in October 2004, security forces rounded up 3,000 people in this and neighboring communities. In many cases their only offense apparently was one of being a relative of someone suspected to be involved in the attacks (3). It is therefore not surprising that approximately 2,000 Gama`a members remain in prison among a total of 12,000 political prisoners held without being charged under the State of Emergency Law.


Furthermore, in March 2006 Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif announced plans to replace the emergency legislation - in place since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981 - with terrorism legislation, which is currently being drafted by a committee under the Minister of Legal Affairs and Parliamentary Councils (4). The questions are, firstly, whether recourse to this legislation will be used against political opponents under the guise of protecting state security - with particular reference to members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Secondly, will the adoption and application of terrorism legislation be used exclusively against those directly responsible for acts of terrorism, within the framework of respect for the rule of law and human rights?  Members of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as other opposition groups, hope that an end to the emergency law would positively affect political reform in Egypt. However, concern was raised that the new terrorism legislation will be utilised to maintain pressure on the opposition, while allowing the state exceptional leeway during investigations, and that this may result in harsher sentences.


Anneli Botha



(2). Agence France Presse, Pro-west policies put Egypt in Al-Qaeda`s sights, 23 July 2005.

(3). M Slackman, Egypt uncovers a new source of extremism in an unexpected place: Northern Sinai, The New York Times, 7 August 2005.

(4). BBC Monitoring Middle East, Legal affairs minister to oversee Egypt`s anti-terror bill, 23 March 2006.