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On October 16, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared a state of emergency for three months, lasting until January 2019. The most recent presidential decree reads:

Under the extension, the armed and the security forces shall take the necessary measures to confront all threats and funding of terrorism to maintain security across the country and protect public and private property and lives of citizens.

Egypt’s state of emergency has been extended six times since first announced in April 2017, in response to two church bombings which killed forty-seven people. Drafted in 1958, the State of Emergency Law No. 162 extends the police powers of the state, allows for the suspension of constitutional rights, including habeas corpus, and legalizes censorship. The law allows the state to monitor emails, calls, and newspapers, evacuate entire regions, withdraw weapons and ammunition permits,  and control the operating hours of businesses.

The militant and rebel insurgency in North Sinai, and various armed attacks around the country have been cited as justifications for this, as well as previous extensions. Egypt has been facing a threat from rebel groups, militants, and the Islamic State in the North Sinai region, which often target security forces and minority groups. Still, experts have remained divided on these extensions. While some believe the country is facing a substantial terrorist threat, others believe Sisi’s state of emergency extensions are little more than an abuse of power.

Indeed, Sisi’s behavior is similar to the strongmen who preceded him, most notably former President Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak kept Egypt under emergency law for thirty-one years, frequently using the threat of terrorism as justification. Under the decades-long state of emergency, Mubarak’s security forces engaged in human rights abuses described as “systematic” by Amnesty International. Human Rights Watch estimated between 5,000 and 10,000 Egyptians were held in detention without charge during 2008 – 2010 of his rule.  

Ultimately, Mubarak’s abuse of power led to his overthrow during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. But, while repealing Egypt’s State of Emergency law was a key demand of protestors, it was never fully achieved. In fact, under the Sisi regime, living under a state of emergency has become normal again. Human rights violations have also returned to extraordinary levels. Throughout Sisi’s presidency, a record number of journalists have been jailed and thousands have been imprisoned for political activity. There are so many individuals in detention that thirteen new prisons have been built from 2013 – 2016. As Human Rights Watch has reported, the rights crisis and systemic abuse of state power currently underway in Egypt is the worst in decades.

Egypt’s state of emergency extensions exist in tandem with the erosion of human rights. Unfortunately, in Egypt, history is repeating itself.

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