Africa

Four years after terror attack, Egypt's Abdel Fattah el-Sissi ends state of emergency

Published : October 26, 2021 17:55 IST

The state of emergency was renewed this April in light of "serious health and security conditions". Photo: Costas Baltas/AP Photo/picture alliance

The measure, long slammed by rights groups as a means to crush dissent, was imposed in 2017 to "fight terrorism."

Egypt will lift a nationwide state of emergency that has been in place for more than four years, President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi announced in a Facebook post on October 25. "Egypt has become, thanks to its great people and its loyal men, an oasis of security and stability in the region," el-Sissi said. "This is why I decided to cancel the renewal of the state of emergency throughout the country," he added.  

Years under state of emergency

The state of emergency was imposed by el-Sissi in April 2017 after two deadly bombings at Coptic churches killed dozens of people. The attacks were claimed by an affiliate group of the so-called "Islamic State" (IS). The emergency measures were imposed for three months after the bombings, but were renewed ever since, most recently last April. At the time of bombings, Egypt was battling a growing wave of violence linked to IS militants, especially in the northeastern Sinai region.

The measures gave authorities sweeping powers. They also curtailed constitutional rights of freedom of speech and public gathering. Human rights groups have slammed the government for crushing dissent under the guise of strict measures. In May 2020, the emergency law was amended to counter the coronavirus outbreak. It gave the president further powers and expanded the jurisdiction of military courts over civilians.

How did rights activists react to the decision?

Prominent Egyptian activist Hossam Baghat welcomed the move, saying it would stop the use of emergency state security courts, although it would not apply to some high-profile cases already referred to such courts. Human Rights Watch researcher Amr Magdi said the damage that the emergency measure has caused "will need years to be reformed."

"Security forces have gotten used to arresting and killing people without account for 10 years and the judiciary has been corrupted. Things will not change by lifting the emergency law," Magdi said in a statement on Facebook. Magdi said el-Sissi's move, coming amid pressure over Egypt's human rights track record, is for Washington and Western allies to "rebrand their forbidden relationship with a government that is one of the most tyrannous governments of the past decade of human history."

What is the human rights situation in Egypt?

Human rights organization Amnesty International noted that the human rights situation in Egypt and conditions in Egyptian prisons were dramatically poor.

HRW estimates that around 60,000 people are currently jailed in Egypt for political reasons. In 2016, the organization published a detailed report on torture and abuse in Egypt's Scorpion Prison. Amnesty International has published similar reports with similar concerns too. In its latest World Report, HRW deplored that "under the guise of fighting terrorism, Egyptian authorities showed utter disregard for the rule of law." It also added that the global pandemic had further deteriorated conditions for prisoners.

In December 2020, the European Parliament issued a resolution "on the deteriorating situation of human rights in Egypt" and called on its member states "to conduct a deep and comprehensive" review of relations with Egypt.

rm/fb (Reuters, AP)

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