Egyptian leader ends state of emergency, says no longer needed

CAIRO – Egypt’s authoritarian president announced on Monday that he had lifted the state of emergency that had been in effect for four years, overturning powers that had given the government the power to crush protests, detain dissidents and control daily life in the most populous Arab country.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s proclamation, coming amid global criticism of human rights violations in Egypt, theoretically ends a decree that had been renewed every three months since 2017. But critics called it a superficial change that would not fundamentally alter the repressive system that has prevailed in Egypt for most of the past 40 years.

In a statement posted to his social media accounts on Monday evening, Mr el-Sisi said he was not extending the state of emergency, which technically expired on Saturday, as the country had finally achieved sufficient “security and stability “to do without. .

“Egypt has become, thanks to its great people and its loyal men, an oasis of security and stability in the region,” he said in the statement. “So I decided for the first time in years not to extend the state of emergency nationwide. “

Apart from a few months of respite in the years following its 2011 revolution, when another authoritarian leader, Hosni Mubarak, resigned amid mass protests, Egypt has been in a state of emergency since the assassination of the predecessor. of Mr. Mubarak, Anwar Sadate, in 1981, always in the name of maintaining order and security.

During this period, the state of emergency has been the government’s broadest tool to crush dissent, leading critics to accuse the government of using the threat of terrorism to distract from its abuses. human rights.

While rights activists cautiously greeted the announcement, they warned that ending the state of emergency would not mean halting the crackdown in Egypt, where thousands of dissidents are in detention, the press and media. social policies are tightly controlled by the state, and public criticism and protests are anything but non-existent.

Even without a state of emergency, few expect the government to change the way it does business.

“I see this as a purely cosmetic gesture: Sisi already has all the repressive powers he needs, apart from the emergency law,” Amy Hawthorne, research director for the Project on Middle East Democracy, an advocacy group Washington based, said on Twitter.

She added in a separate message: “Releasing political prisoners and ending the trials of those currently being prosecuted in state security emergency courts would be much more meaningful. “

Despite all their skepticism, rights activists said they hoped the move signaled further easing of restrictions to come.

“This is something that everyone is going to watch,” said Ragia al-Omran, a human rights lawyer. “All eyes on Egypt on this. “

In 2013, when Mr. el-Sisi was the army’s top general and defense minister, he led the overthrow of Egypt’s only freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi. The government imprisoned Mr. Morsi and many of his allies, and Mr. el-Sisi became president in 2014.

Mr. el-Sisi imposed the current national state of emergency in April 2017, after two church bombings killed 47 people in the Egyptian cities of Alexandria and Tanta on Palm Sunday, claiming there was a need to fight terrorism – the same justification as the Egypt has repeatedly invoked the tough security measures.

Under the state of emergency, the Egyptian security services could detain people indefinitely, question suspects, monitor communications and spy on ordinary citizens. The military has been empowered to intervene to enforce security if necessary. The government could monitor the media and censor their content before publication, evict residents and seize property, all with little or no judicial oversight.

Hossam Bahgat, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a leading rights advocacy group, noted that the ruling would not affect political prisoners currently behind bars, nor those currently being tried in security courts in the United States. emergency that the government regularly uses to pursue. dissidents.

But, he said, it would prevent authorities from bringing new cases to those courts, which are chaired by judges chosen by the president and bar lawyers from appealing.

“This is a small but welcome step in the right direction,” Bahgat said.

Although Mr el-Sisi did not detail the reasons for lifting the state of emergency, he did so less than two months after the Biden administration said Egypt would not receive 130 million of the $ 1.3 billion it receives each year in American aid unless it secures human rights reforms. These conditions have not been made public.

The concessions he has made in recent weeks – including ending the state of emergency and dropping legal proceedings against a handful of civil society and rights groups – do not diminish control of Mr. el-Sisi on the politics of the country.

The Egyptian Constitution requires that any state of emergency be reviewed every three months. The last three-month deadline expired last week, but Mr el-Sisi’s announcement on Monday was the first official word indicating that he would not be renewed. .

Nada Rashwan contributed reporting.

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