Egypt extends state of emergency in Sinai

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

Egyptian army forces take position during ongoing military operations in Sinai. [Photo courtesy of Egyptian armed forces]

Egyptian army forces take position during ongoing military operations in Sinai. [Photo courtesy of Egyptian armed forces]

Egypt's parliament recently extended the state of emergency in parts of North Sinai where security forces continue to battle extremist groups, including "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) affiliate Wilayat Sinai.

This is a necessary step in light of current circumstances in the troubled peninsula, experts tell Al-Mashareq.

The Egyptian parliament’s general committee discussed and approved presidential decree No. 487/2016 on November 13th.

The decree, issued in late October by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, extends the state of emergency in a number of areas of northern Sinai for three months.

"Residents in the region were certain the state of emergency would be extended," said school teacher Mamoun Majeed, a native of North Sinai who currently lives in Cairo.

Parts of Sinai, and North Sinai province in particular, have been under a state of emergency since October 2014, following terror attacks on Egyptian forces.

Residents of the peninsula "are well aware of the importance of the imposition of a state of emergency to ridding the area of terrorists", he told Al-Mashareq.

"They are co-operating fully and completely with the security forces and rarely violate curfew in the areas of operations," he said.

Residents who find it necessary to move about during curfew hours can easily obtain permission from officials in their area, he said, and their movements are facilitated by security forces in critical situations, such as illness or accidents.

Merchants who need to move about during curfew hours on a daily basis to transport perishable goods such as flour, vegetables and fruits, are now co-ordinating with security forces, he added.

Merchants now furnish security personnel with information pertaining to their vehicles and employees, he said, noting that terrorists in the region have previously disguised themselves as vendors and have used civilian vehicles.

Residents of the most troubled areas view their compliance with the state of emergency "as actual participation in the war on terrorism, complementing the security and military efforts being made", Majeed said.

Supporting military operations

The state of emergency extension in areas where military operations are taking place will help Egyptian forces do their job and ensure the safety of civilians, said Brig. Gen. Jawdat Ashraf of the Egyptian police, who is stationed in Sinai.

"Banning entry into certain areas and the instatement of curfew for certain periods of time greatly helps the process of pursuing terrorists, monitoring their movements and uncovering their hideouts," he told Al-Mashareq.

It also will help to expose collaborators who provide these extremists with logistical support such as fuel and food, he said.

Ashraf said the curfew does not apply to all areas of North Sinai, as some areas are excluded while others are under curfew for six or 12 hours.

Curfew hours are announced via loudspeakers on the eve of their enforcement, he said, and are imposed according to the security situation and the course of military operations in each region.

Military operations are conducting a "comprehensive sweep of all areas", he said, which is why the state of emergency has been in effect for so long.

In the past, he explained, the fighting was taking place in or near residential areas, then it moved to nearby areas, while now most of the fighting is taking place in desert regions that are relatively distant from populated areas.

Protecting national security

The Egyptian parliament's approval of the state of emergency extension was procedural, as the presidential decree ordering the extension had been issued, said Ain Shams University constitutional law professor Jaafar al-Ammouri.

"The president may make such decisions and put them in force in situations of war that call for this type of decisions," he told Al-Mashareq.

Immediate, prompt and direct intervention is called for when national security is at risk and the lives of citizens are endangered, he said.

Parliament may discuss such decrees and vote to reject or approve them, he said, noting that in case of rejection, it would have to study the issue in depth with the military commanders, pursuant to the articles of Law No. 162 of 1985.

"In times of war, armed and security forces need to act quickly, especially in relation to raids, arrests and investigations," al-Ammouri said.

This also applies to the imposition of curfews in certain areas, he added, which are intended "to protect the lives of citizens".

These matters typically take time to be approved by the concerned judicial authorities, he said, while in emergency situations the law authorises the army and police to act immediately.

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