Egypt parliament approves three-month state of emergency

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 11 Apr 2017

File photo: Egyptian parliament (Photo: Reuters)

Egypt's parliament voted unanimously in a plenary session on Tuesday in favour of imposing a three-month state of emergency in accordance with a decree by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi on Sunday.

El-Sisi's four-article decree (no.157/2017) states that "in accordance with Article 154 of the constitution, the state of emergency will be imposed nationwide for three months, starting 1pm Monday."

According to Egypt's 2014 constitution, any state of emergency must be confirmed in parliament by majority vote within seven days of its declaration by the president.

The decree states that while military and security forces will do everything possible to stand up to terrorism and safeguard the country, the prime minister will be mandated with exercising all the powers necessary to implement the state of emergency.

The state of emergency comes following two deadly suicide bombings that hit Egypt's St George Cathedral in Tanta and St Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria on Palm Sunday, killing 46 and injuring dozens more during prayer services.

Kamal Amer, the head of parliament's defence and national security committee, said the two suicide attacks justify President El-Sisi's decision to impose the state of emergency.

"These attacks... show that we need exceptional measures to safeguard the country against [terrorism]," said Amer, adding that "the committee's members approved the state of emergency as an effective tool in uprooting terrorism."

Parliament also approved on Tuesday an amendment drafted by independent MP and security expert Tharwat Bekheit to the emergency law.

Amer said that the amendment "allows state authorities to detain anyone suspected of terrorist activity for seven days after getting the prosecution's approval."

"It also authorises Emergency High State Security courts to order the detention of highly dangerous elements for one month in jail, which is subject to renewal."

Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal supported the state of emergency by saying that most European countries have tough anti-terror laws allowing authorities to detain suspects for certain periods of time.

"So we are not doing something different, and because we are in a war against black terrorism, we have to invoke all measures necessary to reinforce our internal security," said Abdel-Aal.

Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said he has high hopes that the media will also observe the state of emergency.

"As is the case in European countries that imposed a state of emergency following terrorist attacks, the media should be careful not to stir up social unrest or harm the nation's supreme interests," said Abdel-Aal.

Abdel-Aal said social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter will be also regulated by the emergency law.

"I have information that some groups used these websites to exchange information related to terrorist attacks in Egypt," said Abdel-Aal.

Abdel-Aal also said that three regulatory press and media councils – which were officially formed on Tuesday – will help observe the performance of the media to ensure that it seeks the country's supreme interests.

"I am sure that these laws will make sure that the media will act in a more disciplined way in the coming period," said Abdel-Aal.

Ali Abdel-Aal told MPs that President El-Sisi's implementation of the state of emergency goes in line with Article 154 of the constitution and Article 132 of parliament's internal by-laws.

"All ordinary citizens should be aware that the emergency law only targets suspected terrorists and criminals. We send a message to the majority of Egyptians that parliament approves only what leads to reinforcing their country's security and stability," said Abdel-Aal.

Abdel-Aal said "the imposing of the state of emergency should not lead some to claim that it will remain in place for 30 years as was the case in the past."

Under the rule of former president Hosni Mubarak, a state of emergency was repeatedly renewed every three months for the entirety of the autocrat's 30 years in power.

"We have strong reasons that justify imposing the new state of emergency, as you see terrorist activities have hit different countries, and we are not an exception," said Abdel-Aal.

Many MPs have also said that state authorities should do more to tighten control on sources of funding for terrorists.

Mostafa El-Guindi, an independent MP and head of parliament's African Affairs Committee, said "we know that some countries are behind funding terrorist activities in Egypt, and I want to know what we will do to confront these countries."

Speaker Abdel-Aal said that "an international conference on terrorism will be held very soon, and Egypt will take the opportunity at this conference to publicly name countries highly suspected of funding terrorist activities."

"Teams of Egyptian lawyers will be formed to sue countries involved in funding terrorism, and I think you know them by name," Abdel-Aal said.

Abdel-Aal said parliament will soon discuss a new law on the formation of the Higher Council on Combating Terrorism and Extremism, which "will be responsible for developing a long-term strategy against terrorism and extremism."

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