Egypt is in a state of emergency.
No need to panic; the country's been in this state for 29 years, or ever since the U.S.-backed President Hosni Mubarak took the helm in the aftermath of Anwar Sadat's assassination.
Today, parliament was simply asked to rubber-stamp the emergency decree yet again. The decree is expected to sail through as usual, despite the protests of opposition groups and pro-reform activists.
What does it mean to live under perpetual martial law?
It means the government's security forces have broad rights to search property, detain citizens and disrupt gatherings with no warning or warrant. People disappear into prisons and emerge weeks later, having had no contact with an attorney, judge or relative. Typically, they're released without charge.
Newspaper editors, volunteers for opposition politicians, moderate Islamists, anyone who's run afoul of a Mubarak crony -- they can all be rounded up for intimidation or detention under the emergency decree.
There are implications for vague offenses such as insulting the president or organizing against the government. In Egypt, that doesn't mean staging a coup; it could be gathering signatures for a petition or questioning the octogenarian president's health.
In fairness, the government this time has promised to soften the emergency decree, limiting it only to terrorism or drug cases and making sure there's judicial supervision.
As Human Rights Watch points out in a statement about the decree today, that's the same promise the government has made and broken in the past. Heck, in 2005 the government even promised to do away with the emergency law altogether.
Today, Cairo didn't feel any different. Traffic was bad, the air was smoggy, the weather was hot, millions of Egyptians went about their daily business. According to the government, however, something so sinister lurks here that the nation must stay in permanent crisis mode.
I guess three decades doesn't sound so bad when I remember a friend's remark that "Egypt's been on the verge of collapse for 7,000 years."