On Monday, parliament approved President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s Decree 168/2020 extending the state of emergency for another three months.
The extension came after three days of clashes between security forces and terrorist groups in North Sinai, in an area where Islamic State affiliate Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis has been operating.
A report prepared by parliament’s Defence and National Security Committee said the killing of 10 military personnel in a terrorist attack in North Sinai’s Bir Al-Abd town on 30 April had underlined the need to extend the state of emergency.
The report praised retaliatory attacks by the army which resulted in the killing of 126 takfiris in northern and central Sinai on 1 and 2 May.
“Operation Sinai 2018 has been effective in destroying the infrastructure of terrorist groups in North Sinai,” said the report.
“Supported by the emergency law, army and police forces were able to defeat terrorist elements and return life back to normal in most of north Sinai.
“No country can completely eliminate terrorism… though the state of emergency is an effective tool and preventive measure protecting Egypt from terrorist threats.”
MPs urged the state to step up development efforts in Sinai. “The government should offer greater incentives to investors to set up projects in North Sinai towns, particularly Bir Al-Abd, so terrorist groups find it harder to recruit and spread their ideology,” said MP Mohamed Zeineddin.
The approval of the extension of the state of emergency came after Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli addressed parliament on Sunday.
Madbouli said MPs were aware of the threats faced by the Arab world.
“We are not afraid of these threats that target our homeland. They will never shake our belief that we live on a land preserved by God and that its soldiers are some of the best in the world,” said Madbouli.
“We have full confidence in our military and police who for years have shouldered the burden of defending our homeland against rogue elements, supported by malicious forces, which target Egypt.
“These forces will be vanquished and Egypt will continue to live in peace and security.”
Madbouli began his statement by referring to “the heinous terrorist attack which hit Bir Al-Abd town in North Sinai on 30 April, perpetrated by “a wicked group which kills even during the holy month of Ramadan.
“We are confident that the people of Egypt support its leadership and army which have never been intimidated by these terrorist acts,” said Madbouli. “Regardless of any threats, the wheels of life will go on turning in Egypt, and the implementation of economic development plans, programmes to raise living standards and extend social protection, will continue.”
On the spread of Covid-19 Madbouli said: “Egypt took early preventative and precautionary measures, and as a result God has spared us the astronomical numbers of infections and deaths many countries are now seeing.
“God also helped us support citizens suffering from the repercussions of the pandemic and to support factories where production has stopped or fallen as a result of the crisis.”
Madbouli said the government had drawn up several scenarios to exit the crisis.
“These scenarios follow World Health Organisation’s (WHO) medical and protective advice. It is important citizens continue to abide by the measures taken by the Ministry of Health to preserve lives and maintain the safety of our country as a whole.”
In light of the above, Madbouli said the cabinet had decided to approve Presidential Decree 168/2020 extending the state of emergency for three months, beginning at 1am, 28 April, 2020.
“The government renews its pledge that it will use the exceptional powers granted by this decree in a way that balances public freedoms and national security,” said Madbouli before he asked MPs to approve the new extension in line with Article 154 of the 2014 constitution.
The current state of emergency was declared in May 2017 following two terrorist attacks targeting churches in Tanta and Alexandria.
On Sunday, MPs also approved amendments to four articles of the Police Authority Law 109/1971. A report by the Defence and National Security Committee said the changes would improve the performance of police officers and ensure that senior ranks were appointed from among the brightest and best police officers. “The law created a new system for the promotion of officers,” said the report.
Saad Al-Gammal, head of the Arab Affairs Committee and a former police officer, said the amendments provided the Higher Police Council with the flexibility necessary to fight new types of crime.
Abdel-Fattah Serag, assistant to the Interior Minister, explained that the amendments impose a new quorum of half, rather than the full membership, of the board of the Higher Police Council when it convened to discuss security policies.
“It is difficult, for practical reasons, for all board members to meet. We want the law to be amended so that half of the board can meet. This will allow greater flexibility in the face of urgent challenges,” said Serag.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 May, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly