Egypt declares state of emergency to combat terror threats

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

Egyptian army units deploy after Egypt declared a state of emergency following two April 9th attacks on Coptic churches in Tanta and Alexandria. [Photo courtesy of the Egyptian Armed Forces]

Egyptian army units deploy after Egypt declared a state of emergency following two April 9th attacks on Coptic churches in Tanta and Alexandria. [Photo courtesy of the Egyptian Armed Forces]

Egypt has declared a state of emergency following recent "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) attacks targeting two Coptic churches, a step that experts say is necessary to maintain the country's security.

The new measure will speed up the implementation of security measures to hunt down terror suspects, they told Al-Mashareq, and will make it easier to prosecute them.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced the state of emergency during a speech shortly after the deadly Palm Sunday (April 9th) attacks on Tanta and Alexandria churches.

ISIL claimed responsibility for the attacks, which killed 45 people and wounded at least 70 others.

During an April 10th session, the cabinet agreed to raise the presidential decision to parliament for a vote, which it approved on April 11th.

Large-scale army deployment

Under the emergency law, large army units have been deployed to all Egyptian provinces to support other security institutions in protecting civilians as well as public and private facilities.

Brig. Gen. Mahmoud Salem of the Cairo police told Al-Mashareq the emergency law was a last resort in the war against terrorism, as terror attacks are directly threatening the civil peace and social stability.

"As a result of this law, a significant number of members of the armed forces will be deployed on the ground to assist the police and other security sectors," he said.

"The law will authorise the necessary raids on suspicious locations, which might be terrorist hideouts, without having to wait for legal permission that might allow terrorists to escape," Salem added.

This is of utmost importance due to the way terrorists operate, he said, whether via lone wolf operations or cluster cells, as it is clear they use several locations for surveillance and preparation ahead of their attacks.

After the army stormed extremist hideouts and weapons stores in Jabal al-Halal in central Sinai , retaliatory operations were expected, he said, noting that the emergency law and additional deployments of troops will help to prevent them.

Legal provisions for the measure

Ain Shams University constitutional law professor Jaafar al-Ammouri told Al-Mashareq the state of emergency has been imposed in accordance with Law No. 162 of 1958.

Under the law, a state of emergency also can be declared following a natural disaster or other catastrophic events that threaten the stability of the country.

"The state of emergency is lifted when the threat no longer exists," he said.

The law has been instated on several occasions since 1969, he said. The president declares the state of emergency, which the cabinet must approve before it is raised to parliament to endorse.

The emergency law authorises exceptional measures that the security authorities deem necessary to confront a certain threat, he said.

"These include setting opening hours for shops and the possibility of shutting some of them during specific parts of the day," he said.

It also includes preventing large gatherings, imposing a curfew "and giving certain officials special authority without having to revert to standard procedure that would normally take time to be approved", he added.

It also enables the authorities to monitor, censor or confiscate messages, printed documents and other communication tools, as well as confiscate weapons, ammunition and fireworks licenses.

Raising awareness about terrorism

With the Egyptian army on the streets leading the security operations, civilians now feel safe, Mansoura University criminal law professor Ahmed Omar told Al-Mashareq.

The emergency law directly refers terror suspects to the state prosecutor, rather than following the regular process at civilian courts that follow a standard approach and can sometimes take years, he said.

Without it, he explained, "key information cannot be obtained in a timely manner nor justice be served for those who are convicted of terrorism acts".

He underscored the importance of declaring the state of emergency alongside a nationwide campaign to raise awareness about terrorism and its dangers.

This would help civilians understand the reasons behind declaring a state of emergency and its desired results, he said.

"The goal is to raise awareness among Egyptians as they constitute a line of defence that helps facilitate the task of the security forces," Omar said.

Civilians are required to respond to orders issued at any time, particularly when it comes to evacuations in certain areas or imposing curfews during a set time or observing certain opening hours for shops, he said.

Omar stressed that these measures are primarily implemented to "protect people from the threat of terrorism as well as to expose terrorists".

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This is not state; rather, they're dogs and sons of dogs. They are terrorists [gibberish] and the Americans. They have nothing to do with Islam. When you describe them as a state, you become accomplices, and this would become a garbage newspaper belonging to the sheep!