Amid increased violence in the restive Sinai, a month-long curfew and an increasingly fervent government crackdown on supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, Egyptian authorities on Thursday extended a state of emergency for another two months, giving the government broad powers to arrest dissidents.
Presidential spokesman Ehab Bedawy said in a statement that the decision was taken in light of “developments and the security situation in the country.”
The government’s use and, opponents charge, abuse of emergency law helped spur the January 2011 uprising that led to the fall of longtime Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. But when Egyptian authorities resurrected it on Aug. 14, the public welcomed a stronger military hand in domestic affairs. Earlier that day, security forces opened fire on Morsi supporters who’d been staging a sit-in since June in Cairo’s Rabaa district, killing as many as 1,100 people, the apex of months of instability and divisiveness after elections that were supposed to bring about revolutionary change.
During the past month, government officials who once feared the wrath of a public angry with its security forces has now found Egyptians willing to embrace old foes. For example, Thursday in the canal city of Suez, a court acquitted 14 security officials in the deaths of protesters during the January 2011 uprising. Just months ago such a verdict would have been likely to spur rioting. But on Thursday the verdict did not spark any kind of outward response.
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In the weeks since opening fire on the sit-in, the government has cracked down on Islamists, particularly those affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, the secretive organization through which Morsi ascended to the presidency. The entire Brotherhood leadership has been dismantled through arrests, including that of spiritual leader Mohammed Badie. Thousands sit in jail on charges varying from terrorism to disturbing the peace.
On Tuesday, Egyptian authorities barred 55,000 unlicensed clerics, largely assumed sympathizers of Morsi, from preaching in mosques.
So far, the government’s deployment of the state of emergency during the past month has done little to bring stability in the Sinai, where Islamists and security forces have repeatedly engaged in violent, escalating clashes that have killed scores. On Tuesday, two simultaneous car bombs were detonated near military bases, killing at least six soldiers and 11 others.
An armed group, Ansar Beit al Maqdis, or Partisans of Jerusalem, claimed responsibility for the attacks in a message posted on its Facebook page. The same group said it was behind an assassination attempt last week against the interior minister, when an explosive detonated near his convoy in Cairo’s western Nasr City district.
The curfew imposed on much of the nation is supposed to expire Saturday, but it is unclear whether officials will extend it as Islamists have launched weekly protests against what they call the military coup that toppled Morsi.
McClatchy special correspondent Amina Ismail contributed to this report.