Egypt’s House of Representatives, the country’s parliament, approved on Monday a presidential decree extending the nationwide state of emergency for a further three months, beginning at 1am on 27 October.
The approval came one day after Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli delivered a statement before parliament warning that “dark forces” were exploiting the turmoil in the Arab world to launch heinous acts against innocent civilians, as well as the armed forces and police, and seeking to destabilise Egypt.
Madbouli said Egypt’s stalwart armed forces and security personnel were standing by to confront all such threats with a watchful eye and a firm will. “Our sons and brothers in Egypt’s armed and security forces have been burdened for years with the task of defending this nation against rogue elements that receive support from foreign forces that hold malicious intentions against Egypt. But their machinations will be defeated by God, and Egypt will remain secure,” he said.
Terrorist attacks have never been able to stop the wheels of life from turning in Egypt, Madbouli said. “They will never be able to suspend the plans for economic development or programmes aimed at improving the standard of living and achieving social protection for the great Egyptian people,” he added, saying that Egypt had gone a long way and had succeeded in achieving the stability necessary to rebuild its economy.
In the light of the circumstances that Egypt faces internally and regionally, the cabinet had decided to approve the declaration of a nationwide state of emergency for three more months, he said. “The government renews the pledge that exceptional powers will be used in a way that guarantees a balance between protecting public freedoms and observing the requirements of national security,” Madbouli said.
On Monday morning, parliament’s General Committee prepared a report that recommended the approval of the three-month extension of the state of emergency. The report said that the declaration of the continuing state of emergency was a necessary measure given the current regional and internal circumstances.
“It also represents a continuation of the state’s efforts to uproot terrorism,” the report said, noting that the government had vowed that the exceptional measures would be used only to safeguard national security against dangers and in a way that strikes a balance with public freedoms.
Kamal Amer, head of the parliament’s Defence and National Security Committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that since President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi had come to power in May 2014, “most of Egypt’s energy has been devoted to fighting terrorism and achieving stability.”
Parliament first voted in favour of declaring a state of emergency in April 2017, and it has been in effect since then. The state of emergency, Amer said, had given the security and armed forces the powers and flexibility to stand up to terrorist groups and restore 99 per cent of stability in Egypt.
Parliament’s vote in favour of declaring the state of emergency in April 2017 had come after terrorist groups affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) group had carried out two terrorist attacks against Coptic churches in Tanta and Alexandria, killing 28 people and injuring 41.
The attacks had received a wave of condemnation in international circles, prompting President Al-Sisi to ask parliament to vote in favour of declaring the state of emergency. This had also been the case in other countries, such as France, whose parliament declared a state of emergency following the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015, Amer said.
He said another step had come in February 2018 when the army and security forces, helped by the emergency law, had decided to launch a comprehensive campaign against the terrorist group Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis in Northern Sinai.
“This group is operating on less than one per cent of Egypt’s geographical area, but it has been able to cause a lot of havoc by targeting Christians, killing former prosecutor-general Hisham Barakat, and trying to kill former interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim,” Amer said, indicating that the powers granted by the emergency law to the armed and security forces had helped in containing Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis and clipping its wings.
“As a result, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis has lost most of its power, particularly after the army was able to disrupt contacts with terrorist groups in Libya and Gaza,” Amer said.
However, it was still a danger, and the country had been facing waves of hostile media campaigns led by TV channels broadcasting from Turkey, Qatar and the UK. “These campaigns are trying their best to stir up trouble in the form of inciting violence against the security and armed forces, urging citizens to protest and move against the state,” Amer said, adding that “as a result, the state of emergency remains an important and essential tool in preserving stability in Egypt.”
When put up for a vote, arliamentary Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal asked MPs who approved the new extension to stand up.
“The tally shows that the majority of MPs, 450 MPs, approved the extension, three MPs rejected it, and one MP decided to abstain,” Abdel-Aal said.
The presidential decree issued by President Al-Sisi on 26 October includes five articles, the first of which states that the state of emergency in Egypt will be extended for three months.
Article 2 stipulates that the police and Armed Forces shall take all the necessary measures to stand up to the dangers of terrorism and its sponsors, maintain security throughout the country, safeguard public and private property, and preserve the lives of all citizens.
Article 3 states that the prime minister will be granted presidential powers in this respect, as stipulated by the emergency law (162/1958). Article 4 states that violators of the decree will be subject to prison sentences. Article 5 indicates that the decree will be published in the official gazette.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 November, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.