Egyptian opposition expresses fears over state of emergency renewal

Looming threats. A member of Egyptian security forces stands guard near the Maadi military hospital in Cairo. (AFP)

2017/10/22 Issue: 128 Page: 10

The Arab Weekly
Amr Emam

Cairo- Egypt’s political opposition expressed concern over the government’s deci­sion to extend the state of emergency for three months.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s citing of “threats” to na­tional security as the reason for the extension was questioned by oppo­nents, who fear it could signal a rep­etition of the days of former Presi­dent Hosni Mubarak, who used an ongoing state of emergency to keep his grip on power over 30 years.

“You do not need to impose the state of emergency to fight ter­rorism,” said Gamal Eid, a human rights advocate and critic of the government. “This is why there is belief that this state is imposed only to be used against those who do not agree with those in power.”

Egyptian officials declared a state of emergency on April 10 following attacks by the Islamic State (ISIS) on two churches that killed 49 people. Egyptian law grants the executive branch sweeping powers to close companies, shutter media outlets, halt protests and monitor personal communications.

The country’s post-revolutionary constitution stipulates that the state of emergency should not ex­ceed three months and can only be extended once for three months. The current state of emergency was extended for three months in July and critics said an extension in Oc­tober is unconstitutional.

“There is blatant insistence on the part of the government to dem­onstrate contempt of the constitu­tion with every decision it makes,” said Tarek al-Awadi, a lawyer and another critic of Sisi’s government. “The government has legal advisers who should have told it that it has no right to renew the state of emer­gency for the second time.”

The Sisi administration appears to have used a technical loophole in the constitution to renew the cur­rent state of emergency.

Egyptians who lived under the constant state of emergency for 30 years under Mubarak said they are wary of seeing the same practice re­born under Sisi.

Mubarak’s security apparatus used the emergency law to raid homes without judicial oversight, ban protests and demonstrations, arrest and imprison suspects with­out trial and suspend the publica­tion of media outlets.

Opponents of the state of emer­gency claim that it has little effect on confronting terrorism and stop­ping attacks and that it is being used by the government to stifle dissent.

“Imposing the state of emergen­cy over the past six months did not prevent terrorist attacks, either on policemen and army personnel or on churches,” he said.

However Egyptian officials said that they foiled several attacks be­cause of the expanded powers al­lowed by the state of emergency.

On the day the government re­newed the state of emergency, a priest from the central province of Beni Suef was stabbed to death outside a church by a man whom authorities described as “mentally disturbed.”

Five days later, dozens of Islamic State (ISIS) members carried out coordinated attacks against two se­curity check points in the northern Sinai city of al-Arish, killing six sol­diers.

Security experts warned that ISIS could escalate its attacks in Egypt to mitigate the group’s defeat in Syria and Iraq. There are fears that Egyptian members of ISIS could re­turn home to carry out attacks.

Special security arrangements are being made across Egypt in prepa­ration for Christmas, which is cel­ebrated by Egypt’s Orthodox Chris­tians on January 7. Egypt’s Coptic Church has called for increased se­curity as the country heads towards the holiday season.

Last December, an ISIS attacker entered a Cairo chapel and set off a bomb, killing 25 Christian worship­pers and injuring dozens of others.

Faced with various threats, ad­vocates of the state of emergency renewal said authorities must do everything in their power to ensure national security.

“This has nothing to do with sup­pressing freedoms or silencing the opposition as some people say,” said Egyptian MP Kamal Amer, head of the Defence and National Security Committee in parliament. “The terrorist threat still looms large and those who cannot see this need to reconsider the way they think.”

Amr Emam is a Cairo-based journalist. He has contributed to the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and the UN news site IRIN.

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