CAIRO — Egypt's notorious emergency law expired Thursday, ending 31 years of broad powers to detain and arrest for a police force accused of severely abusing its far-reaching authority.
Since former President Anwar Sadat's 1981 assassination, the security forces were empowered to detain and arrest people without charge, keep them locked up despite court releases and extract confessions under torture. Abuses almost always went unpunished.
At one point under the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak, human rights groups said more than 10,000 people were in detention — many of them disappearing in Egyptian prisons.
"This is huge," said Hossam Bahgat, a human rights activist who had campaigned for years to lift the hated law. "What is really crucial is the message. The security forces operated under a culture that told them they were constantly above the law. Now they need to abide by the existing legislation."
Last year's popular uprising that drove Mubarak from power was partly fueled by anger over police abuses of power. The lifting of the law was a key demand by the pro-democracy youth groups that engineered the uprising 15 months ago.
The military rulers who took charge after Mubarak indicated they have no intention of renewing the law. They said they will continue to be in charge of the country's security until an elected civilian authority takes over.
A runoff between the two top presidential candidates is scheduled for June 16-17, and the military has said it will hand over power by the end of June.