Egypt extends emergency laws for 2 months

The Egyptian army maintains greater powers amid escalating violence and a continued crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood

An Egyptian soldier standing guard on the border between Egypt and the Palestinian territory Thursday. Twin car bomb blasts the day before targeting Egypt's army killed at least six soldiers in the Sinai peninsula.
Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

Egypt's interim president on Thursday extended a nationwide state of emergency for two more months, citing continued security concerns, as a senior Egyptian official warned of more attacks in the wake of a failed assassination attempt against the interior minister and suicide bombings in the Sinai Peninsula.

The nearly month-old state of emergency, which is due to expire within days, preserves greater powers for security forces amid a crackdown on supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi and increasing violence by armed insurgents.

The emergency was first declared in mid-August after authorities cleared two protest encampments held by Morsi supporters, unleashing violence that claimed the lives of nearly 1,000 people in subsequent days.

The United States again called on Egypt's interim authorities to lift the state of emergency.

"We remain opposed, as we have from the beginning, to the state of emergency. And we urge the interim government to end it immediately," State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.

She pressed Cairo "to create an atmosphere where Egyptians on all sides can peacefully exercise their right to freedom of assembly and expression."

The extension of the state of emergency, which allows police wider powers of arrest, was not unexpected. But Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi has said the curfew, which has been in effect in most of the country and is now lasting for 7 hours most nights, would likely be eased.

For most of the 30-year rule of Morsi's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, Egypt was under emergency law, lifted only after Mubarak's ouster. Under the interim constitution, the state of emergency can only be imposed for three months, then must be put to a public referendum.

Escalating violence

The extension came days after the Egyptian military launched a major offensive in northern region of Sinai, with troops backed by helicopter gunships raiding suspected hideouts al-Qaida inspired militants in a dozen villages. The three-day offensive left 29 militants dead, demolished houses and led to the seizure of weapons and explosives, including 10 anti-aircraft missiles, according to military officials.

In what appeared to be a backlash, a pair of suicide bombers hit military targets in Sinai, killing nine soldiers. Last week, a car bombing in Cairo -- believed to have been caused by a suicide attacker -- targeted the convoy of Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, who is in charge of the police. Ibrahim escaped unharmed but a civilian was killed, in the first such political assassination attempt since Morsi's ouster.

A senior Egyptian official said on Thursday that authorities have recently foiled several "big terrorist attacks.” He said that authorities expect more assassination attempts like the one on Ibrahim, and that there are an estimated 10,000 insurgents operating in Sinai -- some of them former prisoners whom Morsi granted amnesty during his year in office. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Ongoing crackdown

Authorities have been cracking down on Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists since his ouster, arresting at least 2,000 the past month. Senior leaders of the Brotherhood, a powerful organization in Egypt, have been charged or are under investigation on series of allegations, particularly incitement to violence. At the same time, extremists' attacks on police stations, government offices and churches have grown more brazen in southern Egypt.

Talk of reconciliation has largely faded. Indicating that the presidency is not concerned about negotiating with the Muslim Brotherhood, the senior Egyptian official said that the presidency is only acting as "shepherd" to political factions which should be the ones holding talks with Islamists.

"We are not in direct talks with Muslim Brotherhood," he said.

The Brotherhood and its allies have stuck by their demand that Morsi be reinstated as president. Morsi has been in detention in an undisclosed location and now faces several charges including inciting the killing of protesters last year.

Also Thursday, an Egyptian court acquitted 10 policemen and four civilians charged in the killings of 17 protesters and injuring 300 others who were among the first to fall in the 2011 uprising against Mubarak.

The defendants were the latest to be acquitted from nearly 200 policemen and Mubarak-era officials charged with the killing of 900 protesters. In various trials, most of the defendants have been acquitted, prompting an outcry from families of victims and activists, as well as sometimes violent protests.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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