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After 4 Years, Egypt Lifts State of Emergency
Christian scouts carry the coffins of victims of the blast at the Coptic Christian Saint Mark's Church in Alexandria the previous day during a funeral procession at the Monastery of Marmina in Borg El-Arab, east of the northern port city on April 10, 2017. (Mohamed el-Shahed/AFP via Getty Images)

After 4 Years, Egypt Lifts State of Emergency

Except for relatively brief periods before the assassination of President Sadat in 1981 and following the 2011 revolution, states of emergency have been in place since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war

[Cairo] President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced he would not extend the state of emergency across the country, proclaiming on Monday that Egypt had become “an oasis of security and stability in the region.”

Tarek Radwan, chairman of the Human Rights Committee in the Egyptian House of Representatives, told The Media Line, “This decision is the culmination of both the revolution of 2011 and 2013 and the efforts of many in Egypt over the past eight years. One of the most important demands in 2011 was the abolition of the state of emergency. It was the third demand of the revolutionaries in Tahrir Square.”

In January 2011, mass protests against the government of President Hosni Mubarak culminated in a sit-in in Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square. In the early days of the protests, the demands focused on reforms set forth by the National Association for Change (NAC), an umbrella group for Egyptians of all political affiliations and religions led by Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei.

This decision is not surprising and was even expected. … This is the government’s direction ever since it launched the national strategy. The government has begun to pay the same attention to the need to open the political space and improve the human rights situation. At the heart of this is ending the state of emergency

Mohamed Anwar Esmat Sadat, chairman of the Reform and Development Party and the nephew of the late President Anwar Sadat, told The Media Line, “In fact, this decision is not surprising and was even expected. It has been clear that this is the government’s direction ever since it launched the national strategy. The government has begun to pay the same attention to the need to open the political space and improve the human rights situation. At the heart of this is ending the state of emergency.”

Some restrictions found under the Emergency Law are now under newer laws developed after 2013. … Without amendments to them that take into account the rights and freedoms of citizens, the state of emergency will continue, but in an obscured legal manner

However, Ahmed Samih, director at the Cairo-based Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-violence Studies, told The Media Line, “Some restrictions found under the Emergency Law are now under newer laws developed after 2013, such as the Counterterrorism Law, the Law [Organizing the Lists] of Terrorists and Terrorist Entities, and the Criminal Procedure Law. Without amendments to them that take into account the rights and freedoms of citizens, the state of emergency will continue, but in an obscured legal manner.”

El-Sisi’s tweet on Monday was the latest of several measures following the launch of the National Strategy for Human Rights last month, including dropping charges against several NGOs in Case 173 of 2011, lifting travel bans and unfreezing the assets of some persons, and releasing of several detainees.

Today is a celebration of the Egyptian martyrs, including military and security personnel and civilians, who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the country in our battle against terrorism

Radwan said, “The release of the National Strategy for Human Rights on September 11 was the beginning of a series of important decisions. Ending the state of emergency will entail several decisions. I expect additional positive news in areas that directly and indirectly affect human rights in Egypt, as well as national strategy.”

He continued, “Today is a celebration of the Egyptian martyrs, including military and security personnel and civilians, who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the country in our battle against terrorism.”

Except for relatively brief periods before the assassination of President Sadat in 1981 and following the 2011 revolution, states of emergency, which give security forces sweeping powers to detain suspects and try them in special courts, have been in place in Egypt since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

The most recent state of emergency was declared in April 2017 after 47 people were killed and 126 wounded in church bombings in Tanta and Alexandria during Palm Sunday celebrations. The state of emergency was renewed every three months. The most recent extension ended last Saturday.

Earlier this month, el-Sisi issued an order creating a de facto state of emergency in some parts of Sinai, granting the defense minister the authority to determine areas subject to these exceptional measures. Parts of Sinai have been under a state of emergency since 2014.

Sadat said the end of the state of emergency “confirms that the government has restored security and stability. The exceptional state was needed at one point but has become unnecessary. We now have laws and measures that serve to preserve the security and safety of the country without the need for exceptional judicial procedures or other exceptional laws.

“These steps give great hope that Egypt is on its way to becoming a truly modern civil and democratic state,” he said.

We want to abolish everything that leads to the pretrial detention of citizens for years, and return it to its normal condition of one or two months, like in Europe

Samih warned that for Egypt to make real strides in human rights, much more than laws need to change.

“The texts of laws are only part of the problem. The problem is more complex and deeper. There is no independent judiciary. The separation between the executive and the judicial authority in Egypt is nonexistent. In a television interview, the president of the Supreme Constitutional Court, the most important judge in the country, mentions President el-Sisi over 40 times in a meeting that didn’t exceed 45 minutes, calling him the father of the rule of law in the ‘New Egypt,’” he said.

“We want to abolish everything that leads to the pretrial detention of citizens for years, and return it to its normal condition of one or two months, like in Europe,” Samih said.

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