State of Emergency Extended: Between Combating Terrorism and Suppressing the Pro-Reform Movement

In Salon Ibn Rushd by CIHRS

Under the title “State of Emergency Extended: Between Combating Terrorism and Suppressing the Pro-Reform Movement”, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) organized a seminar within the framework of Ibn Rushd salon where a number of experts and specialists participated. Moderating the seminar, Bahey el-Din Hassan, CIHRS Director, pointed out at the outset that the parliament agreed to extend application of the 27-year old emergency law for extra two years; a life time never reached by the worst war-stricken countries.

Mr. Hassan added that the declared goals of extending the emergency law have always been connected with terrorist hazards, with the claim that the said law will be used only in two cases, namely terrorism and drug trafficking, according to the often-repeated governmental declaration over the span of 25-years. Mr. Hassan noted that along all these years there were two contradictory views, the first one that claims the necessity of applying that law due to the prevalence of terrorism, thus justified granting security personnel exceptional powers and statuses, yet this point disproves itself as the law did not manage to protect Egypt from terrorism. On the contrary, over the last two years specifically, terrorism took a new shape and expanded on the map over the last 25-year time span. The second view, according to Mr. Hassan, hundreds of activists had been arrested by virtue of the emergency law, which proves its falsehood as these activists and advocates had nothing to do with terrorism or fanaticism. This matter, thus, which poses a serious question: how far did the application of the Emergency Law help combat terrorism or prevent its hazards? And to what extent did the law respond to the aspirations of reform or respect human rights?

Hafez Abu Se’da, Secretary-General of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, started his argument affirming that the imposition of the Emergency Law was the main reason behind the deterioration, or more accurately, the utter absence of an Egyptian political life. He explained that throughout the application of this Law, the government’s declared justification has always been contradictory with its actual and daily practices. Abu Se’da affirmed that the state of emergency should not be declared unless a certain threat is posed in a fashion that commands imposition of emergency, and this should be in three cases, and three cases alone: declaring war, war threats, or natural disasters such as earthquakes or epidemics. Whereas domestic problems, such as violence or terrorism, are no justification to use violence, as the law itself – according to Mr. Abu Se’da – gives absolute power to the government to deny all rights enshrined in the constitution. In evidence of his argument, Mr. Abu Se’da cited Article 3 of the Constitution providing that the President of the Republic, whether in writing or verbally, can take extreme steps, such as restricting freedom of assembly, freedom of movement, and residence in certain times and places; arresting suspects or those considered dangerous to national order and security; and giving power to inspect people and places irrespective of the provisions of the Procedural Criminal Law, as well as commissioning any person to do any certain job; commissioning monitoring of letters, of whatever nature, as well as journals, publications, and drawings along with fighting means of expression and propaganda before being published then detected, confiscated and before the publishing houses got closed; setting times for opening and closing, some of or all, public shops.; confiscating any movable object and property, and putting companies and institutions under custody; in addition to postponing mature debts or the debts due on whosoever a person put under custody.

Mr. Abu Se’da pointed out that the first item of the law in question provides full confiscation of both public and personal freedoms; the second item, however, stipulates that all forms of expression shall be confiscated, whereas in the third, shops shall be closed by virtue of certain decrees. Actually, according to that third item, private properties are lost under the state of emergency, Mr. Abu Se’da contended. He further explained that the governmental claim of not using such provisions is false, giving as evidence the 500 military warrants issued by virtue of a Decree of the President to deal with different issues starting with fund raising, illegal building on farmland, unlicensed building or removal of buildings, opening and closing shops at certain hours, in addition to alternating between a summer (day-light saving) time and a winter time. He also referred to the fixed and moving traffic ambushes all over the country where citizens are taken to prison and arbitrarily arrested, the thing that could only happen under the umbrella of the Emergency Law.
Mr. Abu Se’da, then, pointed out that the Emergency Law can only be used to combat terrorism when suspects are referred to exceptional courts – state security emergency courts or martial courts – otherwise all rights and freedoms contained in the constitution are, indeed, confiscated. Abu Se’da revealed that, very recently, a range of students, demonstrators, and supporters of the Judges Movement have been framed with “insulting the President of the Republic”, so that they could be referred to state security prosecution and later to the state security court. He pointed out that the charges included other crimes contained in Law #10/ 1914 on riotous assembly and the other item in Law #14/ 1923 on public meetings and demonstrations. Mr. Abu Se’da indicated that the Interior Ministry’s decision to ban demonstration goes against Law #14 of 1923 stipulating that any political group wishing to hold a meeting, stage a demonstration or a peaceful gathering must notify the administrative body three days prior to the event. In the event of the elections, notification may be made an hour prior to the event. Abu Se’da then tackled the extended application of the Emergency Law, pointing out that opposition parties in Egypt did not manage to hold any public meetings down the streets with their members due to the Emergency Law. An example of this is that following the meeting of the Inter-party Coordination Committee that came out with the decision to hold a conference at Abdeen Presidential Palace in 2004 to announce a special document of the heads and representatives of political parties, a decision was issued that any form of gathering around this place will be dealt with by the security. He added that the Emergency Law had been used repeatedly against media workers, demonstrators and political parties as well as ordinary citizens, as 50 thousand lawsuits were brought against farmers on the charge of building on farmland. Moreover, the law was used daily against ordinary citizens through the arrest committees in the Egyptian society.

Mr. Abu Se’da then took to refuting the government’s allegation that the Emergency Law was nothing that the public should be concerned with, wondering how this law could confiscate the constitutionalized citizenship rights and not be at the same time central to the public’s interests. He further argued that the legal base has a main aim: public deterrence, meaning that as soon as a law is issued and promulgated in the official gazette, all citizens are supposed to have learnt it. Public deterrence was achieved by the Emergency Law, and stagnated the Egyptian political society. Mr. Abu Se’da expounded that the phenomenon of eschewing punishment coincides with application of the Emergency Law, the matter which leads to disasters that render public deterrence one of the main reasons behind political stagnation in the Egyptian society and the suspension of political parties, leaving writing as the only vent-out mechanism.

Mr. Abu Se’da concluded that all terrorist acts took place under the Emergency Law, pointing out that the government deceives citizens under the pretext of aborting terrorist acts. Mr. Abu Se’da explained that whereas there were only 35 cases against terrorist groups, public security reports on regular crimes, such as murder and armed robbery, indicated that over a lapse of one year, there were around 30 thousand premeditated murders, muggings, thug attacks, and physical assaults; the matter which purports that the government hinders political life in Egypt by fabrications not facts. He further expounded that if terrorism disappeared, a new form of terrorism would be created so that the Emergency Law would have a new reason to exist, for it is the only logical justification for the survival of a tyrant regime that only understands the language of oppression.

Tackling Islamist Groups Affairs, Mr. Abdel Reheem Ali El-Geneidy explained the incidents surrounding the emergence of the different armed Islamist groups under the Emergency Law while the State was preoccupied with cracking down on politicians and shutting down opposition newspapers. He affirmed that the prolonged application of the Emergency Law engendered the phenomenally catastrophic lack of professionalism on the part of Egyptian security staff who got used to easy squeeze of information through the various torture techniques and law violations. As evidence, Mr. El-Geneidy cited the so-called “Hellfire Survivors” events under the former Minister of Interiors, Zaki Badr, when the Ministry of Interiors framed three young people who confessed under severe torture to have organized an extremist group, while the real culprits appeared at a later stage.

He pointed out that Upper Egyptian governorates turned during the Eighties into some sort of a “state inside a state”; Islamist groups emirs used to enforce Islamic punishments at mosques of Minya and Assiut, under the noses (and bless) of Investigation Police Officers. He further affirmed that a certain cooperation existed between both sides in these governorates at a time when certain parties, like al-Tagammu’ opposition party (National Unionist Progressive Party), were prevented from holding meetings and peaceful gatherings, while emirs of Islamist groups were allowed to meet with thousands of their followers in mosques.

Proceeding to the Nineties, Mr. Geneidy pointed out to the assassination of the People’s Assembly’s ex-Speaker, Ref’at el-Mahgoub, when the Minister of Interiors at that time, Mr. Abdul-Halim Moussa, visited the crime scene where he, using a constable’s gun, and went after one of the assassins. Explaining that in this period key figures like Dr Atef Sidqy, Safwat Al-Sherif, Naguib Mahfouz and Hassan El-Alfi were all attempted, Geneidy pointed out that the government tightened siege on the society and widened the circle of arrests, the matter which created hundreds of terrorists due to security practices against them and their families. Geneidy expounded that security forces at that time used to use citizens as human shields to agitate public opinion against Islamist groups as civilian killers.

The State’s bodies resorted to imposing a curfew and adopted a policy of deliberate starvation and intimidation in many villages in Minya and Assiut governorates in order to force families to hand in the wanted Islamist convicts; the matter which triggered real enmity between the villagers on the one hand, and the government, society, political powers, and security bodies on the other, Geneidy argued. Vendetta then erupted between local citizens of such villages and security members. Mr. Geneidy finally affirmed that terrorism did not come to an end through security efforts, but rather by a self-motivated decision of the rebellious parties to bury their hatchets.

Constitutional Coup
Diaa Rashwan, an expert at al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS), affirmed, in turn, that the Emergency Law has been used in suppressing the whole society, not the reform movement alone. He pinpointed that the present period marks the longest ever since the Emergency Law was applied in Egypt in 1914 when martial laws were imposed on account of the first world war. He affirmed that security bodies belittle citizens under the State of Emergency, citing in evidence the arbitrary arrest of two citizens in the town of Arment, Qena governorate, for a duration of 13 years. However, since 1997, after Luxor’s events, until April 2005, not a single terrorist act was reported, compared to the 1990-1997 period where terrorism was massive; in both periods, the Emergency Law was applicable, he contended. Mr. Rashwan concluded that ending terrorism has nothing to do with the Emergency Law, and that there are other reasons that have to do with handling terrorism as a phenomenon from a political point of view, beside the fact that suspending armed acts was the decision of the Islamist groups, the matter which reflects that security alone cannot prevent crimes.

Mr. Rashwan affirmed that dealing with terrorism, the past and present waves alike, in security terms will lead to inevitable failure. He added that relying on the notion of emergency, being the main tool, highlights bigger confrontational failure. He noted that, following September 11th events, the United States, employed the Egyptian vision on fighting terrorism; laws similar to Egyptian laws in this respect were enacted, and the international law was violated by all possible means including unlawful arrests, occupation of countries, etc.

He pointed out that terrorist acts are increasing considerably all over the world after 2001, and that the failure of the United States administration to deal with the phenomenon resulted in widening the circle of terrorism worldwide.

Proceeding to the intention of the National Democratic Party –NDP- to pass a law on terrorism, Mr. Rashwan explained that this reflects an endeavor to constitutionalize the State of Emergency through that draft law. It would imply declaring a constitutional amendment matching the emergency law and rendering the articles on public freedoms un-actable, particularly Article 4 on personal freedoms, as well as Articles 42 and 71. This indeed could be described as a radical constitutional coup in the pipeline, that would tolerate the state of emergency and change exceptional laws into constitutional provisions. Mr. Rashwan argued that this would mean that we are moving absolutely against reform, adding that the coup’s engineers are the so-called NDP “reformists”, whom he described as maimed clones of their party predecessors.

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