Egypt's parliament approved the renewal of the state of emergency for two years Sunday, a controversial measure the country's premier justified with a recent wave of bombings and communal clashes.
The opposition Muslim Brotherhood condemned the government request, arguing that emergency laws were ineffective and that its justification was tantamount to "government terror".
"The sectarian incidents and terrorist operations Egypt has witnessed recently have led us to ask for the extension" as of June 1, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif told the People's Assembly before the vote.
Three suicide bombers struck the Red Sea resort of Dahab on April 24, killing 18 other people and wounding 90. Two failed suicide attacks were carried out against security personnel two days later, further north in Sinai.
Violent clashes also broke out earlier this month in Alexandria between Muslims and the Coptic Christian minority after a knife-wielding assailant attacked worshippers in several churches.
Nazif asked for the state of emergency to be renewed for "two years only or until a new anti-terrorist law is passed, which will require constitutional amendments."
Three quarters of the 378 lawmakers present in the 454-strong parliament voted in favour of the two-year extension, while 91 voted against.
The renewal needed a two-thirds majority to be passed and the ruling National Democratic Party controls around three quarters of the chamber.
Muslim Brotherhood MPs shouted slogans as the vote got under way, some of them wearing scarves inscribed with the words "No to the state of emergency."
The state of emergency has been imposed almost continuously since 1967 and been renewed every three years under President Hosni Mubarak's 25-year-old rule.
During his campaign for the September 2005 presidential election, Mubarak promised to abolish the state of emergency.
But the 77-year-old president said in a recent interview that new counter-terrorism legislation would be needed to replace exception laws and that it could take up to two years to draft.
"The state of emergency does not eliminate terrorism but it facilitates the work of the security forces in their attempt to protect our homeland," Nazif told lawmakers Sunday.
"President Mubarak wants stability for the Egyptian people and this will only be possible when total security is achieved in the country, which will require the extension of the state of emergency until anti-terrorist legislation is adopted," he added.
Three Egyptians were killed Sunday in clashes that broke out when police raided northern Sinai to hunt down the group responsible for the deadly bombings in Dahab, security sources said.
State-owned newspapers also reported that one of the three suicide bombers who blew themselves up in the Red Sea resort of Dahab on April 24 had been identified and his brother arrested.
The armed clashes erupted at dawn in the Jabal al-Maghara region in northern Sinai as police encircled an area where they believed suspects were holed up, the interior ministry said in a statement.
Three suspects were killed during the day-long exchanges, security sources said, adding that one of the dead men was believed to be Nasr Khamis al-Milahi, on the wanted list since previous deadly bombings in Sinai in October 2004 and July 2005.
Other suspects were detained in the raid, security sources added.
The Jabal Maghara area is close to Sheikh Zuayed, which is one of the main towns in northern Sinai and the home of at least one of the suicide bombers, the sources said.
Similar sweeps, during which thousands of Bedouins were detained, were launched following the Sharm el-Sheikh bombings in July 2005.
The abolition of the emergency laws - which grant security forces sweeping powers of arrest and restrict non-government political activity - have been the focal point of opposition parties in Egypt over the past year.
Rights groups and political opponents had warned that the government would seek to use the latest unrest in Egypt to justify extending the state of emergency.
"They are backtracking on promises of removing the law. Now members of parliament are experiencing a government terror after the Dahab terror," Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Issam al-Aryan said.
"If they do extend it, it is a bad sign. They say it is against terrorism and drugs, but this law has been abused," Aryan said.
The Muslim Brothers, who hold a fifth of seats in parliament, have recently launched a major campaign against the state of emergency and argued that it has been unsuccessful in combating terrorism.
Egypt's tourist hub of Sinai has been hit by three deadly spates of bombings in the past 18 months.