Extending the state of emergency is about resisting protesters, not terrorists

For the tenth time, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a decision on Saturday to declare a state of emergency in Egypt, starting from 26 October 2019 for three months.

Al-Sisi said that he had come to face the “dangerous security conditions” in the country. But the decision was met with indignation and cynicism by Egyptian activists who launched a hashtag in which they monitored various forms of repression under the exceptional law.

The new extension coincides with the decline in military operations in the Sinai and the Western Sahara, so activists see it as unwarranted. But the decision also coincides with growing public anger against al-Sisi, especially in light of accusations of corruption, as well as failure in dealing with the heavy rain and poor economic conditions in the country.

Al-Sisi has issued the same decision every three months since the law was adopted more two years ago on April 10, 2017.

Article 1 of the Emergency Law states that “a state of emergency may be declared whenever security or public order in the territory of the Republic or in an area thereof is endangered, whether by reason of war, a threatening situation, disturbances, public disasters or a pandemic.”

According to the constitution, only the President of the Republic has the right to declare a state of emergency with an official decision, but the decision must include the reasons why the state of emergency has been declared, the area to which the resolution applies, and the date of commencement, according to Article 2 of the law issued in 2017.

The 2014 Egyptian constitution sets out several conditions for enforcing a state of emergency in Egypt.

The most important of these items is that the president declares a state of emergency after seeking the opinion of the Council of Ministers, and that this declaration is then submitted to the House of Representatives. Over the next seven days a majority of council members must approve it if it is to be applied.

If the council is not present, the matter shall be submitted to the Council of Government for approval, with the need to submit it to the new Council of Representatives at its first meeting. The Chamber of Deputies may not be dissolved during the state of emergency in the country.

The state of emergency is supposed to be declared in the country for a period not exceeding three months, and it may not be extended for another similar period without the approval of two thirds of the members of the House of Representatives.

If the President of the Republic wishes to extend the emergency period for further periods, it must be put to a referendum. But al-Sisi was able to extend the state of emergency after the second three months, without a referendum, by waiting for one day after its expiration and then announcing it again.

When al-Sisi declares a state of emergency he will have the right to establish the system of emergency Supreme State Security Courts, which are exceptional courts, whose rulings cannot be appealed. He also has the right to allocate departments to the Emergency Law in several courts. 

In accordance with Article IX of the law, the president has the right to refer the accused to the Emergency Supreme State Security Courts for any crimes punishable by common law.

The decisions of the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) shall not be subject to appeal and shall be final with the ratification of the President of the Republic.

The state of emergency gives al-Sisi the authority to order the deployment of the armed forces and authorise them to carry out the president’s orders.

Under the state of emergency, Egyptian authorities can monitor private correspondence and what is published in newspapers and in the media and determine the dates of opening and closing public shops.

According to the declaration of the state of emergency, al-Sisi also has the right to isolate or evacuate certain areas, regulate means of transport, and restrict and limit communications.

These powers mean that al-Sisi can deploy armed forces to curb demonstrations rather than fight terrorism. This gives the general absolute authority to isolate areas where demonstrations take place, or to spy on opponents’ messages and their phone calls.

Over the past few months, Egyptian dissidents have been increasingly referred to emergency SSSCs. The extraordinary courts carry out reprisals against opponents of the regime.

During the years of al-Sisi’s rule, observers say he tried to inflate the scale of terror operations in his country, in order to obtain broad powers to repress protesters. The extension of the state of emergency means that he will be able to continue arresting citizens without abiding by laws or human rights.