What does ending the state of emergency in Egypt mean?

Amr Kandil , Friday 29 Oct 2021

Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi ended on Monday a four-year state of emergency nationwide, which was declared after two terrorist attacks on churches in April 2017.

Egypt
REUTERS

Revoking the state of emergency, which was being renewed every three months in those four years with the approval of parliament, ends the exceptional powers granted to the president under the 1958 Law of emergency. 

The terrorist attacks on St George's Church in the Delta city of Tanta and St Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria on Palm Sunday left 47 people dead, prompting the security forces to carry out concerted efforts to combat terrorism.

The president's decision to renew the state of emergency was regularly followed by the Cabinet's renewal of a night curfew – also per the Law of Emergency – in parts of North Sinai, where the army has been battling terrorists over the past years.

The president said on Monday revoking the state of emergency means "Egypt has become an oasis of security and stability in the region." 

The decision is a reflection of the Egyptian people's "sincere and faithful participation in all development and construction efforts," El-Sisi added.

Intellectuals, judges, state institutions, human rights activists, and parliamentarians have praised El-Sisi's decision, describing it as a boost for human rights and proof of the state's stability.

MP Farag Fathy, a member of the Senate's Constitutional Committee, told Ahram Online that the decision is of global significance and will positively impact human rights and investments.

What is the state of emergency?

The state of emergency can be declared in Egypt in case public security and order are threatened nationwide or in a part of the nation, according to the Law of Emergency 162/1958.

"The president of the republic's decision either to declare, extend, or lift the state of emergency is an act of sovereignty that is related to the state's supreme political interest," constitutional law professor at Mansoura University Salah Fawzy told Ahram Online.

Threats to public security include wars, states threatening of war, domestic turbulence, general disasters, and pandemics, according to the law.

Effecting the state of emergency requires the approval of the majority of parliament members.

The law of emergency, becoming inoperative once the state of emergency is canceled, gives the president the right to take the measures required to safeguard public security and order.

Why end the state of emergency now?

"The president, who is in charge of declaring, extending, or canceling the state of emergency has his own independent discretion given the indications and reasons for the issuance of this decision," Fawzy, also a member of the Egyptian Scientific Institute, added.

With the public order in place there is no reason to extend the state of emergency, he noted.

In his Facebook post, El-Sisi said "I recall [the sacrifices of] our heroic martyrs, without whom we would have never reached security and stability." 

The decision to end the state of emergency comes as the state's war against terrorism continues.

El-Sisi affirmed earlier this month that Egypt "continues to offer martyrs until terrorism is completely eliminated."

What are the outcomes of lifting the state of emergency?

Article 3 of the emergency law allows the president to place restrictions on citizens' freedom of gathering and movement during certain periods, order the monitoring of newspapers and publications, seizing them, and closing their printing outlets.

The law also gives the president the right to set working hours of public shops, evacuate or isolate some places, halt classes at schools, universities, and institutes, and temporarily suspend work at ministries and public authorities, and companies.

The president, as per the law, also has the right to ban general meetings, parades, demonstrations, and celebrations and to oblige visitors from abroad to abide by quarantine measures.

Some of these provisions were only introduced to the emergency law last year as part of the state's efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

"In case the state of emergency is lifted, the procedures stipulated in Article 3 are halted," Fawzy stated.

Concerning demonstrations, Fawzy said citizens will still have to abide by Law 107/2013, according to which the authorities can cancel or reroute the march as per judicial order.

Egypt's protest law, signed by former interim president Adly Mansour, requires a three-day notification before protests take place and gives authorities the right to cancel or postpone protests.

Fawzy said local administrations and the relevant law will also determine the working hours of public shops and other facilities after the end of the state of emergency.

The future of cases at emergency state security courts

The emergency law also sets a different and exclusive judicial system represented in emergency state security courts for misdemeanours and felonies.

Unlike ordinary courts, emergency state security courts do not adjudicate civil disputes and their rulings are unappealable.

Judges in emergency state security courts rule on numerous charges covered by the rules of counter-terrorism, illegal protests, attacks on public properties, possession of explosives, and other crimes threatening national unity and public order.

As per the emergency law, the president of the republic appoints the state security courts' judges and counselors after coordination with the minister of justice and also with the minister of defence in the event of appointing officers.

The law grants the president or his representative the right to refer crimes punishable by the penal code to these courts during the state of emergency.

The rulings of these courts, though unappealable, only become final after the president's ratification.

As per the law, the president has the right to reduce or cancel the sentence issued by emergency state security courts or to order a retrial for a stated reason.

After a retrial, the president is obliged to ratify the verdict in case of acquittal and has the right to reduce, halt, or cancel sentences

Despite the end of the state of emergency, emergency state security courts remain competent to hear cases that had been referred to them. On the other hand, those cases which had not been referred to these courts before the state of emergency ends will be referred to ordinary courts, as per the emergency law.

State security courts' panels are comprised of ordinary judiciary judges from the courts of appeal and with long experience in the criminal judiciary field.

The Cabinet forms judicial panels to review state security courts' sentences and decide on grievances against the rulings.

How can ending the state of emergency enhance human rights?

In a statement, Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) hailed El-Sisi's decision, calling it "an important step towards bolstering, implementing, and protecting human rights.”

The recently-reconstituted council is entrusted with supervising the human rights situation in Egypt, releasing periodical reports, and recommending new legislation that can improve the conditions of human rights.

The NCHR said the decision “reflects the state of stability and development the country has witnessed thanks to the wise leadership of El-Sisi.”

The council added that the decision “sends a message to Egyptians that the state is determined to exert all efforts to strengthen human rights. It is an integral part of an honest and brave implementation of the content of the National Strategy for Human Rights,” which was launched by the president in mid-September.

In remarks to the press, George Ishak, a member of the NCHR, described the decision as a positive step for enhancing human rights, noting that the lifting of the state of emergency means canceling the emergency state security courts and refers citizens accused of all crimes to ordinary courts. 

Meanwhile, Constitutional Law professor Mohamed El-Zahaby hailed in remarks to Ahram Online the presidential decision, saying Egypt is preparing for a new stage of enhancing human rights, freedoms, and justice over the coming years.

"The continuous extension of the state of emergency creates an impression at home and abroad that we live in an exceptional situation where constitutional guarantees are not fully provided," El-Zahaby said.

"For justice to be perfected, we have to live in normal rather than exceptional circumstances," he stressed.

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