Egypt’s state of emergency in 2017: constitutional enforcement and consequences

In the wake of deadly two attacks on churches in Tanta and Alexandria that killed 45 and injured over 100 others on Sunday, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced the enforcement of a three-month state of emergency.

Sisi appeared on state TV on Sunday evening after a series of meetings with senior government officials and the National Defense Council following the bombings.

In a televised speech, the president warned that the two attacks were an attempt to destroy Egyptians’ unity and called on the international community to hold accountable the countries that finance terrorism.

Sisi did not clarify the details of how this state of emergency would be enforced in 2017, nor did he touch on matters like arrests without a warrant or the censorship of media outlets.

The president‘s late-night declaration was followed by a remarkable buzz on social media outlets. Egyptians discussed the possible consequences of putting Egypt under a state of emergency and expressed their fears that this change would further diminish personal freedoms in Egypt and grant state security even more power.

In this report, Egypt Independent will clarify what is stipulated in the 2014 Constitution if a state of emergency is declared, the executive powers granted to the presidency in this case and the consequences that may stem from this decision.

According to the 2014 Constitution, the president's declaration of an emergency state should be first approved by the Cabinet and then referred to the Parliament for a final ratification.

On Monday morning, the Cabinet confirmed the president's official declaration for a state of emergency; the application of this decision was referred to Parliament for discussion and approval. However, in its Monday session, the Parliament decided to adjourn the discussion on the emergency state to Tuesday for the sake of reviewing the reasons behind that decision.

Article 154 grants Sisi the right to extend the emergency period for 90 days following its implementation, as long as this decision receives a two-thirds majority from MPs who have seven days to review the measure.

Therefore, a state of emergency would only become active officially following parliamentary approval, after which Law No. 162/1958 would become relevant. This code organizes how the emergency state would be implemented, said lawyer and legal expert Tarek Negida.

This code grants the president and other sovereign institutions in Egypt exceptional authority and powers, he added.

“This code becomes valid directly following the Parliament's approval on the application of the emergency state in Egypt; it would give the president wide-reaching powers through which he can impose strict control over the country,” Negida explained.

Egypt Independent reviewed the articles mentioned in the code which grant unlimited powers to the president, on the top of which are the right to impose a full or partial curfew and to issue verbal orders to displace the residents of some regions or to isolate and cut off a region from outside support.

The president's right to impose a curfew

This code grants the Egyptian Armed Forces the right to enact the president's orders, such as imposing a curfew in streets and arresting anyone who violates these orders, according to the 2014 Constitution.

Emergency courts are back

Moreover, this code will allow the return of emergency courts which are assigned for anyone who violates military orders, such as curfew. These people are put to trial under the president's personal referral.

All verdicts issued by these courts must be ratified by the president and he also has the right to mitigate them; these verdicts cannot be totally appealed.

President's eye on the media

One of the controversial powers granted to the president is monitoring electronic messages, newspapers, newsletters and any other form of advertising and expression. The president has the authority to censor these outlets or to even shut down their publication.

Operating hours for public transportation and street vendors

Thr code gives Sisi the right to issue verbal or written decisions to impose a curfew on public transportation, shops and street vendors. He may even issue an order for the closure of shops.

The president has no right to forcibly arrest any citizen

Arrests without a warrant from the prosecution, or other similar legal proceedings, and forced administrative detention were made illegal by the Constitutional Court in 2013. 

Negida said the application of an emergency state in Egypt will increase restrictions on personal freedoms that are already suffering under strict measures, such as the Protest Law.

“The application of a state of emergency in Egypt will not effectively help to eliminate the terrorism that extended to Cairo and other governorates. North Sinai has been under a state of emergency for years but militants activity there remains strong,” the lawyer added.

A historical overview of the emergency state code in Egypt

The first enforcement of the emergency code in Egypt was in the wake of the 1967 war with Israel. This state of emergency state remained active until 1980 when late president Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat suspended it.

In October 1981, the emergency code was back on the political scene when Sadat was assassinated, its application lasted throughout the entire ruling period of ousted president Mohamed Hosni Mubarak who left power due to the revolution in 2011.

The 25 January Revolution called for the suspension of the emergency code, which had been active for nearly 30 years at that point. The state of emergency remained active until it was suspended before the presidential elections in 2012 by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces that ruled over Egypt after Mubarak stepped down.

Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, was ousted by a military coup supported by the people in July 2013. A new state of emergency was declared in the aftermath of his ouster as protests turned into violents riots between the armed forces, pro-Morsi factions and pro-army supporters. The governorates of Suez, Ismailia and Port Said were particularly hard hit by the violence but residents there chose to disregard the emergency code for the most part. 

Following the dispersal of Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in Rabba al-Adaweya and al-Nahda squares, interim president Adly Mansour issues a stricter state of emergency which saw the enforcement of curfews in central Cairo and further out. 

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