Egypt’s Prime Minister Sherif Ismail delivered a statement before parliament on Tuesday arguing for the extension of a state of emergency in North Sinai for three months, accusing “external and internal forces of supplying terrorist groups with money, arms, ammunition, individuals and political and media cover.”
“The proliferation of terrorist attacks in parts of North Sinai has made it a necessity for President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to continue the state of emergency,” Ismail said.
“Terrorist groups are still targeting North Sinai and are still causing havoc there in terms of smuggling arms, spreading extremism, and killing army personnel, police forces and civilians with the objective of turning the entire Sinai Peninsula into a lawless area and a springboard for spreading terrorism in the entire region,” said Ismail in a 10-minute speech.
“They aim to keep in place terrorist organisations in Sinai to continue their operations.”
Ismail said the extension of the state of emergency would help the army have a favourable environment for ridding the governorate of “terrorist elements” and enforcing the law.
“It will also help the government implement development projects in Sinai and take all necessary measures to pursue terrorists, dry up their sources of funding and tighten control on international borders,” Ismail said.
He did, however, tell parliament that “the imposing of the state of emergency will not lead to eliminating terrorism in North Sinai completely. It just helps take preventive measures against terrorism and terrorists and helps security forces stand up to them.”
Ismail said that North Sinai needs comprehensive development in addition to high security measures to be completely free from terrorism.
In response, parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Al said the PM’s statement will have to be first reviewed and discussed by the House’s General Committee and before the proposal to extend the state of emergency is put up for a vote in a plenary session.
Parliament’s General Committee, to be formed next week, is composed of the speaker, his two deputies and the chairpersons of parliament’s 25 committees.
“Once formed, the Committee will discuss Ismail’s statement and then prepare a report to be discussed before parliament,” said Abdel-Al.
Ismail said the new three-month extension of the state of emergency in North Sinai reflects “the state’s iron will to impose security on every inch of Egypt,” adding that “a lot of our army and security forces have sacrificed their lives in North Sinai while standing up to the black terror and extremist thinking there.”
Ismail argued that in fighting terrorism in North Sinai, army and security forces have always been keen to make sure that it does not come at the expense of public rights.
“The new constitution has made it an obligation for the president of the republic to make sure that he strikes a balance between the necessity of countering terrorism and keeping public and civilian rights in place,” said Ismail.
“The constitution is also clear that the president must indicate where and for how long the counter-terrorism measures are implemented and that they cannot be used as an excuse for violating public freedoms.”
Ismail stressed that given Sinai’s strategic geographical significance – as it borders Palestine and Israel, overlooks the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Aqaba, is rich in natural resources and hosts the Suez Canal – it is “of a high security and strategic value and the government should do its best to keep it safe.”
Ismail explained that the state of emergency was first imposed in North Sinai in October 2014 under presidential decree 366, which states that it would cover only parts of North Sinai between 25 October 2014 and 24 January 2015.
“Due to the dangerous development of terrorism there, the state of emergency in North Sinai continued to be implemented for different periods by different presidential decrees,” said Ismail.
“During these two years, the government decided to reduce the curfew hours in El-Arish – the capital of North Sinai – and the international road from El-Midan checkpoint to the entrance of El-Arish city from the east to just four hours – starting from 1am until 5am.”
“This came upon the popular request of the citizens of El-Arish city,” said Ismail.
Ismail said the government observed Article 154 of the constitution, which stipulates that parliament must be officially informed of the extension decision within seven days.
“We referred the president’s decree in this respect (187/2016) to parliament within two days – or on 7 May,” indicated Ismail.
The decree states that any citizen found guilty of violating curfew hours could face imprisonment according to emergency law 162/1985.