Egypt will lift the state of emergency more than four years after it was first imposed in 2017, multiple news reports stated on Tuesday, October 26. The decision was announced by Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Activists and civil society groups welcomed the decision, with prominent human rights activist Hossam Bahgat saying that it would stop the use of emergency state security courts, although existing cases in such courts will not be affected by the decision. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) called it a “positive step in the right direction,” with Ramy Yaaccoub, executive director of The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy also echoing that sentiment in a tweet. International human rights group Amnesty International also welcomed the decision.
The ending of the emergency will be followed by the cancellation of all exceptional procedures before state security courts and the abolition of all provisions that were subject to ratification by the State Security Affairs Office, in addition to the abolition of exceptional trials, such as the Supreme State Security Courts, with the trials now being held under the current Code of Criminal Procedure and Penalties. It will also reportedly mean an end to the monitoring of messages of any kind, and withdrawal of restrictions on freedom of residence and passage at specific times and places, as well as the restrictions on people’s freedom of gathering and movement.
The state of emergency was imposed on April 10, 2017, following the deadly terrorist bombings targeting two minority Coptic Christian churches which killed more than 40 people and injured many others. The terrorist attacks were carried out by a group with links to the Islamic State group. Under the emergency, Egyptian authorities could carry out several extreme measures such as arbitrary arrests, searches of homes without warrants, curfews, imprisonment of people indefinitely without trial, and trial of civilians in military courts. It also took away freedom of speech and assembly, restricted public demonstrations, and enabled the government to engage in censorship. Additionally, during the emergency, state funds which otherwise would have been used in other sectors such as healthcare, education or infrastructure, were diverted towards matters of national security and counter-terrorism.
The authoritarian government of president Sisi misused the powers to persecute activists, critics and political opposition. Thousands of human rights activists, lawyers, journalists, writers, political activists, Muslim Brotherhood leaders and members, as well as many others, were caught up in the crackdown during these years, with the number of political prisoners estimated by human rights groups to be more than 60,000.
There have also been many cases of extrajudicial killings of civilians with the government claiming that those killed were terrorists, as well as an increase in the use of the death penalty. Rights groups said that many of these executions were carried out after hurried trials on the basis of insufficient evidence. Several prominent human rights activists and journalists, such as Alaa Abdel Fattah, still face serious criminal charges, ranging from “belonging to a terrorist group” to “harming national security” on the basis of what they have published or written on social media. Many are being detained illegally by the authorities for prolonged periods of time without any information about the charges against them or trials.