The headache plaguing Egypt’s military rulers after they announced the reactivation of emergency laws is unlikely to go away anytime soon. Now the council has entered into a war of words with Egypt’s top legal expert who claims the laws are no longer valid.
In an interview with Al-Jazeera yesterday, Judge Tarek El-Beshry said Egypt’s state of emergency ended on 19 September. He believes the state of emergency began on the day the national referendum on constitutional amendments was held on 19 March. He then points out that Article 59 of the constitutional decree, announced by SCAF following the referendum, says the state of emergency is only valid for six months, and is therefore now over.
A military source has fired back by saying the emergency laws are valid until June 2012. General Adel El-Moursi, head of the Military Judiciary Authority, says SCAF did not declare the state of emergency and it was in fact ousted president Mubarak who passed it through a presidential decree in June 2010, for two years until the end of June 2012. This means it is valid, he says.
According to Article 59 of the decree, the president of the country, after consulting with the Council of Ministers, can announce a state of emergency. This announcement needs to be presented to parliament within seven days for approval. If parliament is dissolved, it should be presented to a new parliament in its first session.
However, the article says that “in all cases, the announcement of a state of emergency can only be for a specific period of time that does not exceed six months and cannot be extended unless a national referendum is held to get the approval of the people.”
The Article 62 decree was announced by SCAF after the 19 March referendum on the constitutional amendment was held. The amendments were made by a committee headed by El-Beshry himself, who was handpicked by SCAF. The decree that followed is supposed to act as the country's temporary constitution, after the 1971 constitution was suspended days after Mubarak stepped down. The new parliament, which will be elected this November, will tailor a new constitution.
El-Beshry added that the military council did not hold a referendum, as the decree stipulated, to ask the Egyptians if they want to extend the state of emergency. Nor, he added, does SCAF have the power to announce an extension of the state of emergency.
El-Beshry’s statement comes hot on the heels of a controversial announcement by the military council to reactivate the hated emergency law on 11 September, after angry protesters stormed the Israeli embassy.
SCAF justified its decision by saying that the imposition of a state of emergency is legitimate when domestic disturbances or terrorism threaten to disrupt national security or law and order.
Activists responded to the reactivation decision by calling for a ‘No to Emergency Law’ Friday on 16 September. Three days later, hundreds of protesters held a peaceful march from Tahrir Square to the Egyptian parliament, again to voice their anger at the decision.
However, the protests did not sway the government in any way. An unperturbed Essam Sharaf, Egypt’s interim prime minister, insisted that the law was put into effect to protect the revolution from those who wish to undermine it. He denied allegations that the law will prematurely halt democratic reform and promised that it will be lifted as soon as possible.
Despite Sharaf’s reassurances, a heated debate continues to swirl around the council’s decision. The emergency law was put in effect by ousted president Mubarak in 1981, and for three decades he used it to get rid of his enemies and crackdown on dissent. When the Egyptian Revolution erupted in January, cancellation of the emergency law was one of the top demands of the revolutionaries. Many activists believe its reactivation is a major setback for the revolution.
Many also believe that Egypt's first post Mubarak parliamentary elections, set for November, should not be held under a state of emergency. The elections are a little over a month away, and it seems the state of emergency will not be lifted before then.