Sunday,24 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1365, (19 - 25 October 2017)
Sunday,24 February, 2019
Issue 1365, (19 - 25 October 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Emergency back on

A new state of emergency is now in place. Mona El-Nahhas explores the debate over its justification and constitutionality


Emergency back on
Emergency back on

A presidential decree issued on 12 October renewed a state of emergency across the country for three months. The decree became effective the following day. The “serious security situation through which Egypt is passing through” was cited as the reason behind the move.

By means of the decree, the Armed Forces and the police are both assigned with “taking all the necessary measures to confront terrorism and means of its funding, maintain security all over the country, safeguard public and private properties and keep citizens safe”.

The decree was issued just one day after the state of emergency imposed on 10 April and extended on 10 July came to an end. In the wake of April’s deadly blasts which targeted two churches in Tanta and Alexandria, leaving dozens of Coptic Christians dead and injured, a three-month state of emergency was declared in Egypt and was renewed in July for another three months with parliamentary approval.

Article 154 of the 2014 constitution limited the period allowed for declaring a state of emergency to three months. The constitution said renewal is allowed just once and for only three months.

To avoid any infraction of the constitutional, the government did not renew the state of emergency but declared a new one.

Constitutional expert Salah Fawzi viewed the decree as conforming to the constitution so long as it is a new declaration of the state of emergency and not a renewal. “The constitution does not ban a re-declaration of the state of emergency in case of necessity,” he said.

The deteriorating security situation in northern Sinai since 2014 was behind declaring and renewing a state of emergency several times in that area.

“Regardless of its form, this is an extension of the state of emergency,” rights lawyer Tarek Al-Awadi said.

Lawyer Essam Al-Islamboli warned of repeating this technique. “When the constitutional legislator limited the timeframe of the state of emergency, he was keen to avoid the mistakes of the 30 years marking former president Hosni Mubarak’s rule when a state of emergency was the norm,” Al-Islamboli said.

The presidential decree must be referred to parliament within seven days following its issuance and needs the approval of two-thirds of parliamentary members. If the decree is issued while parliament is not in session, it should be immediately summoned for an urgent session, according to the same constitutional article.

However, since parliament does not resume its regular sessions before 22 October, several MPs have called for holding an urgent parliamentary session to discuss the presidential decree.

And although Parliamentary Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal is currently in Russia, taking part in meetings of the International Parliament, Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka, head of the parliamentary Committee for Legislative and Constitutional Affairs, told reporters last week that one of Abdel-Aal’s deputies is authorised to chair the session. However, a date has not been set to discuss the matter.

“Parliament backs the declaration of the state of emergency to help the Armed Forces and the security apparatus do their job,” said Abu Shoka. “Terrorism which threatens Egypt and its borders requires a new declaration of the state of emergency,” he said.

Others see things differently. Lawyer Tarek Negeida does not see a strong enough reason to justify re-imposing the state of emergency.

The law regulating the emergency lends the executive authority wide powers. Under emergency law, freedom of meeting, moving and gathering may be restricted; newspapers, news bulletins and all other kinds of publications are tightly controlled; weapon licences may be withdrawn; shops can be closed and companies placed under judicial sequestration. A night curfew may be imposed in some areas. Extraordinary courts may be assigned to hearing cases related to charges already penalised by the law at large.

The declaration of the state of emergency came just four days following the issuance of a decree obliging the prosecution-general to refer crimes penalised in several laws to the State Security Emergency Court. The decree is due to be applied to new lawsuits not yet referred to any court.

According to a cabinet decree published in the official gazette, these laws include the protest law, the assembly law, the law combating terrorism, the law prohibiting strikes in places of worship and the law prohibiting a sabotage of institutions. The decree also covers crimes related to thuggery, terror and threats to state security as listed in the penal code. Other crimes included in the decree are the illegal possession of arms and ammunition, the violation of mandatory pricing rules and regulations on the supply of goods.

The State Security Emergency Courts are exceptional, working only when the state of emergency is declared.

While supporters of the cabinet decree view it as achieving quick justice by accelerating trials and reducing litigation periods, opponents said it deprives defendants of their basic rights of receiving a fair trial before an ordinary court.

According to Article 12 of the emergency law, rulings passed by the State Security Emergency Courts cannot be appealed but should be ratified by the president who is also entitled to reduce or abolish them. An appeal contesting the constitutionality of four articles of the law, including Article 12, is now with the Supreme Constitutional Court, waiting for a ruling.

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