Inside Story

Why is Egypt under a state of emergency?

The government says it is fighting 'terrorism' but we ask if there is a legitimate way to tackle the country's problems.

Last Modified: 19 Sep 2013 12:25
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Egypt's military-backed government says enforcing a state of emergency is necessary to fight what it calls a 'war on terrorism'.

The state of emergency has been extended for another two months - the government says it was for security reasons but opponents say it will mean more oppression and abuse.

According to Amnesty International, some 3000 people have been arrested since the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi in July. The organisation has documented cases where detainees were denied prompt access either to their lawyers or families.

It’s not a war against Islamists, it’s a war against civil[ians] at the end, and we are refusing to use the emergency of law in political issues, and it seems this emergency law [is being used] to attack [the other] side in the political [arena] … and we are refusing [it] … because it is a  law ... used against all activists and civilians …

Mohammed Adel, co-founder of the April 6 movement

Around 600 people have since been released, but Amnesty International says it was concerned that many were arrested for exercising their right to peaceful protest.

Detailed accounts are also emerging of terrible prison conditions, some detainees say they were made to sleep on concrete floors and denied light or human contact.

And it is not just Egyptians who are suffering, two Canadians who have been detained for more than 30 days have gone on hunger strike in protest. On Tuesday, the French foreign ministry confirmed one of its citizens being held in Cairo had been beaten to death by other inmates.

There has hardly been a time when Egypt has not been under emergency law since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

The measures allow security forces to detain people for any period of time, for virtually any reason. They also grant broad powers to restrict public gatherings and media freedom.

Lifting the state of emergency was one of the demands of the 2011 uprising, and that goal was realised, when the extraordinary measures expired in May last year under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

But emergency law was reintroduced by elected president Mohamed Morsi in January this year for 30 days, to curb renewed unrest. The latest state of emergency was brought back on August 14 by interim President Adly Mansour, and extended again on Thursday.

The US has renewed calls for Egypt to lift its state of emergency, but Cairo insists it has been necessary in order to stop the violence.

The army has been waging daily battles against what it calls 'Islamist militants' in the northern Sinai Peninsular. It says elements in the largely lawless region, bordering the Gaza Strip and Israel, pose a threat to the country's national security.

On Tuesday, Egyptian security forces stormed a town south of Cairo.

Groups loyal to deposed president Mohammed Morsi had thrown out the local police force in Dalga in Minya province. They were blamed for looting churches, courthouses, local government buildings and police stations, setting some on fire.

And this is precisely why, the government says, there is a state of emergency, however critics argue all the problems could be dealt under existing laws.

So, why is Egypt under a state of emergency? What does this mean for the Egyptians? And does it signal a return to the Mubarak era? 

To discuss this, Inside Story with presenter Shiulie Ghosh, is joined by guests : Nicholas Piachaud, North Africa and Egypt Campaigner for Amnesty International; Marwa Maziad, a columnist at the Egyptian newspaper Almasry Alyoum; and Mohammed Adel, co-founder of the April 6 movement, an Egyptian activist group.

"This is a really new way of repression, it's a return to the kind of tactics and abuses that we saw under the 30-year state of emergency that marked Hosni Mubarak's rule.

"There are so many concerns here ... one women protester who was arrested with a broken leg said she spent days asking to be transferred to a hospital before she was given adequate medical treatment ….

"Unless the Egyptians authorities take immediate steps to ensure that justice is done, Egyptians' right to justice will be undermined, and I think just as crucially, Egyptians' right to see justice done will be robbed."

- Nicholas Piachaud, North Africa and Egypt Campaigner for Amnesty International


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