Egypt Reinstates Emergency Laws After Embassy Attack

The repeal of the emergency laws, prohibiting political gatherings and protests, was one of the main demands of the Egyptian revolution.

Egypt's Supreme Military Council and its government announced on saturday that it is reinstating the emergency laws it had repealed only two months ago. The announcement came following Friday's storming of the building housing the Israeli Embassy in Cairo.

The laws, which were in force for some 30 years under former president Hosni Mubarak, and whose repeal was one of the main demands of the revolution in Egypt, prohibit political gatherings and protests and carry severe penalties for offenders.

Egyptian soldiers marching - AP - 11092011

Information Minister Osama Heikal announced the reinstatement of the laws after a dramatic meeting of the Egyptian cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, and the chairman of the supreme military council, General Mohammed Tantawi.

Heikal said Egypt's prosecutor general for state security had already begun investigating detainees ahead of potential prosecutions.

Heikal said that the incident had harmed the good name of Egypt and its international standing, and that Egypt respected its international agreements and obligations stemming from those agreements - including the protection of the diplomats of all countries with which Egypt has relations and of the diplomats of those countries who are stationed in Egypt.

Heikal called on all organizations and political parties, as well as the Egyptian media, to show restraint and responsibility and not to encourage such incidents.

The emergency laws also impose restrictions on the freedom of the press.

"These rioters cannot be defined as brave or as heroes. They are lawbreakers who harm Egypt," the information minister said.

Egypt's foreign minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr, returned from a European visit to attend the cabinet meeting.

Meanwhile on Saturday, Egyptian government officials expressed anger at reports, which turned out to be false, that Sharaf had resigned as prime minster. Egyptian television broadcast the report after it was first aired on Al Arabiya news channel.

The government issued a statement that the prime minister had come to the cabinet meeting to discuss the events and at no point was his resignation discussed.

The attack on the Israeli Embassy was also decried by representatives of liberal parties and movements that had taken part in the revolution. Amr Hamzawy, a founding member of the Freedom Egypt Party, called it "irresponsible." Hamdeen Sabahi, chairman of the Pan-Arabist Dignity Party, who is also a presidential candidate, condemned the violence toward the police by the rioters, while the April 6 youth movement said the attack would impact Egypt's revolution.

Egyptian television quoted a source in the Egyptian Interior Ministry that "foreign elements" - taking advantage of the restraint the Egyptian security forces had shown - were behind the attack.

Meanwhile, European leaders were quick to condemn the Saturday attack. British Prime Minister David Cameron said he had "urged" the Egyptian authorities to meet their responsibilities under the Vienna Convention "to protect diplomatic property and personnel, including the Israeli Embassy in Cairo.

"We welcome this and look to Egypt to honor this commitment," Cameron continued, in a statement released by his office, and added that the Egyptians had "reassured us that they take these very seriously."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also condemned the attacks, saying he "expects the Egyptian authorities to provide for the security of the Embassy in accordance with international obligations. Any further escalation of the situation must be avoided."