CAIRO — Egypt has extended its state of emergency for the fourth time, sparking controversy in political and legal circles about the security reasons behind this step and whether the decision is constitutional.
The constitution clearly states that a state of emergency can last a maximum of three months, with one three-month extension. Egypt has been living under a state of emergency for 12 months, and now has at least three more months to go.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi first declared the state of emergency April 10, 2017, for three months, following two April 9 terrorist attacks targeting churches in Tanta and Alexandria. The attacks killed 44 people and wounded dozens.
Under the decree, the armed forces and police must take measures to confront terrorism and its funding sources, and maintain security throughout the country. Anyone who disobeys the order's provisions can be imprisoned. Each time the government imposes a state of emergency, it renews its commitment to using exceptional measures only to the extent necessary to preserve national security and not to infringe on public freedoms.
Legal expert Mohamed Nour Farhat said the ruling political regime in Egypt has become increasingly fearful and threatened, especially since several terrorist incidents have proved the inadequacy of its security agencies in tracking down perpetrators or pre-empting such incidents. This fear is reflected in the regime's government, its laws and legislative actions.
Farhat told Al-Monitor that in light of continued threats, the regime is on full alert all the time, working to get a strong security grip on the community. This has resulted in the four consecutive extensions of the state of emergency, in a clear violation of the constitution.
However, he stressed that the government can, by law, track down and punish anyone it finds suspicious without the need to extend the state of emergency or declare any exceptional measures that might threaten citizens' freedoms. The law covers the regulation of foreign funding, monitoring nongovernmental organizations, banning demonstrations and amending the Code of Criminal Procedure.
“The government’s claims on the need to counter terrorism don't justify violating the constitution," Farhat said. "The state of emergency has been imposed for a year now without reducing the number of terrorist incidents.”
The government is trying to work around the constitution by separating the consecutive emergency periods by one or two days, he added.
Meanwhile, Al-Sayyed Sherif, parliament’s first deputy, told Al-Monitor that the extended state of emergency aims to maintain security and stability, given the Egyptian state’s fierce war against the “forces of evil and terrorism aiming at undermining the nation’s capabilities and pulverizing its unity.”
Sherif said the law provides for one day of extension. According to Sherif, Sisi's actions are consistent with the constitution.
He said traitors to the homeland from terrorist groups and the Muslim Brotherhood are the ones promoting claims of a constitutional violation. He dismissed claims that the one- or two-day break is a way to circumvent the constitution.
“Several countries had previously declared a state of emergency for long periods of time to confront terrorist threats to the state," he said. France observed a state of emergency for two years after the 2015 Bataclan theater attack, which killed more than 130 people and wounded hundreds more.
Sherif said that terrorist attacks have taken an even greater toll on Egypt than on France, and that therefore the state of emergency becomes a must for Egypt until the situation is stable.
This all comes as many organizations are raising concerns about human rights violations under the state of emergency.
Ahmed Ali, a lawyer at the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression, told Al-Monitor that the state of emergency legitimizes the arrest campaigns launched periodically by the state under the pretext of preserving national security. Ali added that several activists have been assaulted or apprehended by the security forces. The most recent example was the April 15 suspected forced disappearance of Sherif Roubi, a leader of the April 6 Movement.