Declaration of state of emergency stirs fears among citizens

Sarah El-Sheikh
9 Min Read

Egyptian cabinet approved a three-month state of emergency in the country that was ordered only one day ago by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in an official speech, which stirred fears among citizens regarding the destiny of freedom and rights under its enforcement.

The cabinet approval came during a general meeting on Monday, but parliament still has to vote on the declaration.

Al-Sisi announced the state of emergency during his speech on Sunday evening that came as a reaction to the deadly attacks that occurred on Palm Sunday against Mar Girgis Church in Tanta and St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria, both which combined led to the death of more than 40, with over 100 being injured.

The state of emergency could result in high emergency security procedures that had been stopped in Egypt in May 2012 by the armed forces after being practiced for many decades.

According to Article 154 of the Constitution, the president of the republic may declare a state of emergency after consultation with the cabinet and approval of the parliament. “The state of emergency shall be declared for a specified period not exceeding three months, which may only be extended for another similar period after obtaining the approval of two-thirds of the parliament members,” the article stipulates.

The article adds that the parliament must clarify its stance of approval or rejection within seven days of the declaration of a state of emergency, in accordance with the Constitution action.

Regarding parliament’s lack of action, Essam El-Eslamboli explained to Daily News Egypt that in accordance with the Constitution, parliament still has a week to approve the so-called emergency law—which would ratify the state of emergency—clarifying that the president and cabinet have declared a state of emergency but approval of the parliament is required.

Daily News Egypt attempted to contact the deputy of the Constitutional and Legislative Committee in parliament, Ahmed Helmy El-Sherif, but he was not available for comment on what the parliament’s plan is.

The state of emergency could be extended to six months and will be enforced in accordance with a certain law developed for it years ago.

A number of human rights lawyers expressed fear over the declaration, stating that it would bring back random crackdowns on citizens, which had already been taking place throughout former president Hosni Mubarak’s era.

Meanwhile, others stated that it is required in order to confront the current situation.

The state of emergency is required for addressing two main issues that are related to regulating and improving the security conditions. These two issues are speeding up trials and allowing military presence in the streets, former member of parliament (MP) Ihab Ramzy told Daily News Egypt. Military presence usually requires a special decree by the president.

When asked if the interior ministry is not able to secure or handle such situations independently, Ramzy said the military interference should not be read this way, as it is just part of the state of emergency requirements and, in addition to this, military interference would strengthen mechanisms to fight terrorism.

Lawyer Malek Adly explained that “military personnel could be part of judicial panels, be present in streets to secure vital buildings, be assigned by the president to take certain security actions against anyone who is suspicious, such as filing reports against them.”

As for the part of fast litigation, Adly clarified that courts, such as the High State Security Court, which had been stopped previously, will return to look into cases of terrorism suspects or any other cases the president orders them to look into.

When asked why these courts could provide faster trials than others, he explained that these courts do not allow appeals.

He also asserted that in accordance with the law, such courts cannot look into any cases that have already started or are being viewed in other courts, because it is assigned for viewing only cases that will be delivered to it in accordance with the state of emergency law.

Commenting on citizens’ fear of possibly being subjected to unfair security procedures, Ramzy said that the citizen is required to be more cooperative with the state, explaining that they have to be accepting of inspections, questioning, and other security-related procedures.

“Citizens are the only ones who can prove their own suspicion, and those who fear the state of emergency are definitely real suspects,” Ramzy asserted.

Besides all the aforementioned security procedures, random arrests and detention are excluded.

In June 2013, the Constitutional Court made some declarations regarding the unconstitutionality of a number of articles related to the state of emergency law, which came on top of the declaration of the annulment of the first part of Article 3 that is related to arrests and detention of suspects.

Previously, Article 3 stipulated arrests of suspects or those who seem dangerous to the security and public order, as well as permissions to inspect people and places, without complying with the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Meanwhile, the president is not currently allowed to assign the Interior Ministry to arrest or detain anyone without a permit from the judiciary or without being referred to any legal entity.

However, El-Eslamboli said that despite the article’s annulment, the parliament could still return it, especially if any MP presents a draft law requesting this. The expert added that this could occur within this week or even after parliament’s approval.

Throughout the past four years, the law was not subjected to any discussion that could have led to finding alternatives for the annulled part.

The state of emergency is being declared throughout the country for the first time during Al-Sisi’s presidency; however, it has been enforced on a regular basis in Sinai.

Additional procedures might be taken under the state of emergency, including inspections and seizing of messages and publication contents, closure orders, or deciding certain opening times for buildings and shops, as well as placing guards in front of certain buildings. In addition to that, it will also include the withdrawal or cancellation of licenses of some weapons belonging to citizens, along with security plans for traffic and transportation.

In December, in the wake of the attack on the St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church that left 25 killed and 49 injured, several members of parliament and public figures called for military trials for whoever was proven to be involved in the terror attack.

The government already declared at that time the amendment of the Criminal Procedures Law to address the slow pace of litigation and to swiftly handle terrorism-related cases, but nothing has been amended yet.

Furthermore, a national council is to be formed to combat terrorism, and it shall have enough authority to be able to work, including regulations over the media, the judiciary, laws, and religious discourse.

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