Egypt’s President El-Sisi Ends State Of Emergency For The First Time In Years

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced on October 25th that he had lifted the country’s state of emergency for the first time in four years. Originally instituted after a string of deadly church bombings in 2017, el-Sisi has repeatedly extended the declaration, using it to crack down on political dissidents.

“Egypt has become, thanks to its great people and loyal men, an oasis for security and stability in the region,” el-Sisi boasted in a statement. “So, I have decided for the first time in years not to extend the state of emergency.”

Human rights activists have cautiously embraced the move. Hossam Bahgat, executive director of prominent rights advocacy group The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, noted that the order would not affect the thousands of political prisoners currently languishing in prison. However, it would prevent future cases from being taken to trial. “It’s a limited but welcome step in the right direction,” Bahgat said.

President el-Sisi first took power in a 2013 coup and has never been elected in a fair democratic contest. Since seizing power, he has enacted multiple constitutional reforms which expanded presidential power and extended his term.

El-Sisi’s regime has faced numerous allegations of corruption and human rights abuses over the past decade. In 2018, for example, Egypt passed the Media Regulation Law, which proscribes prison sentences for journalists who “incite violence” – a provision which has been abused to restrict legitimate political speech. Last year, a Human Rights Watch Report detailed the country’s detainment and torture of almost 20 children aged 12-17.

In the past, the United States has come under fire for its close relationship with the Sisi government. Despite Egypt’s appalling human rights violations, the U.S. granted the country more than $1 billion in aid in 2020. In September, President Biden warned that he would withhold $130 million of that aid if Egypt did make certain human rights reforms. The exact requirements have not been made public, but it is likely that this threat is driving el-Sisi’s decision to lift the state of emergency.

President Biden’s policy is a welcome change from the blind gifting of aid in the past, but the U.S. must continue to place pressure on the el-Sisi regime to clean up its human rights record. Lifting the state of emergency is a start, but this move is mainly symbolic. Egypt continues to oppress speech extra-judicially and through other laws. Until the United States takes a harder line with Egypt, this is unlikely to change.