President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi surprised commentators this week by ending the state of emergency in effect since 2017.
In July the House of Representatives had approved President Al-Sisi’s decree extending the state of emergency for another three months, from 24 July to 25 October, and most analysts anticipated another three-month extension next week. On Monday, however, President Al-Sisi wrote on his Facebook page that “Egypt has become, thanks to its great and loyal people, an oasis of security and stability in the region. As a result, I have decided to cancel the extension of the state of emergency throughout the country.
“Let us together move steadily towards building the new republic, inspired by God’s help and support. Long Live Egypt.”
On 10 April 2017, the House of Representatives approved declaring the state of emergency in response to bombings that targeted churches in Tanta and Alexandria, leaving 43 dead and injuring more than 100. The Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attacks.
At the time, Al-Sisi said a state of emergency was necessary to confront the “forces of darkness” which were tageting Egypt’s internal security and stability.
Salah Fawzi, a constitutional law professor at the University of Mansoura, said in a TV interview on Monday evening that “we know that the job of the army is mainly to defend the country’s borders, and fight invading forces, but with the emergency law it acquired sweeping powers to face internal dangers such as terrorist groups and drug traffickers that threaten national security.”
Salah Abu Himila, a member of parliament’s Defence and National Security Committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that “when President Al-Sisi declared the state of emergency in 2017, it was in response to a real threat to national security, when terrorist groups — particularly IS in Libya and North Sinai — were attacking army and security forces, places of worship, and the economic infrastructure.”
Abu Himila believes the state of emergency was very effective in countering the dangers, particularly the threat posed by IS-affiliated Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis in North Sinai. The group staged a number of deadly strikes against army and police forces, and soft targets such as mosques, churches, and monasteries.
“With the introduction of the emergency law in 2017 the army and security forces were able to almost obliterate the group and stem the tide of terrorist attacks,” said Abu Himila.
Abu Himila argues that one factor that might have prompted cancelling the state of emergency is that “there are no more dangers coming from Libya which has been able to restore much of its stability in the last two years.”
MP Amr Al-Sonbati told the Weekly that the decision was made against a backdrop in which several Arab countries are facing security troubles. “Countries like Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and Tunisia face serious terrorist threats and are imposing their own states of emergency.
“Egypt, meanwhile, has become an oasis of stability in a region seething with turmoil.”
Al-Sonbati argued that cancelling the state of emergency will benefit Egypt economically because “a country without a state of emergency is a safe destination for investments and tourist traffic.”
Fawzi pointed out that the state of emergency had allowed authorities to refer offenders to “emergency state security courts” which were quicker in reaching judgements than civilian courts but that, from 25 October, such courts have been terminated.
Senate Deputy Speaker and Chairman of the Wafd Party Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka made the point that the decision has implications on those who face charges for political reasons. “Beginning from 25 October, defendants in such cases will be referred to civilian courts. There will be no change, however, in high-profile cases already referred to emergency courts.”
Abu Shoka says the decision sends a message to the world that “Egypt is a secure and stable country.
“I think the president made his decision after concluding that Egypt has won its war against terrorism and that its borders, particularly with Libya and Gaza, are now secure.”
MP Ahmed Shalabi, spokesperson for the Guardians of the Nation Party, said lifting the state of emergency will reinforce the national strategy for human rights adopted last month.
“The state of emergency in Egypt made it a target of harsh criticism from Western organisations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Our message to these organisations is that the state of emergency was not an end in itself, a tool to defeat terrorist groups, and now this has been achieved the country can return to normal.”
According to Abu Shoka, the state of emergency did not cause serious harm to public freedoms since it was applied only to terrorist attacks against military and police forces.
Tarek Radwan, chairman of the Human Rights Committee, sees the move as a step towards bolstering human rights.
“Every time the government came to parliament to ask for an extension, it stressed that it did not want Egypt to live in a permanent state of emergency and that the emergency legislation was directed only at terrorist threats,” said Radwan.
Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights hailed the move on Monday calling it “an important step towards bolstering, implementing, and protecting human rights”, adding that the decision “sends a message to Egyptians that the state is serious and determined about strengthening human rights”.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 October, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly