Economists, rights advocates concerned over Egypt’s state of emergency

Sunday 23/04/2017
Wrong message? Soldiers guard a street near a church in Cairo, on April 10. (AP)

Cairo - Economists and rights ad­vocates expressed fears that the state of emer­gency in Egypt would negatively affect the flow of investments into the country and allow for human rights abuses.
“When you apply a state of emergency, you are sending the message to the international busi­ness community that security conditions in your country are not normal,” said Yumn al-Hamaqi, an economics professor at Cairo Uni­versity. “This will make those who plan to come here to invest their money think twice.”
The state of emergency was announced April 10, a day after suicide attackers set off bombs in churches in the northern coastal city of Alexandria and the Nile Delta city of Tanta. The bombings were the latest in a string of attacks against Egypt’s Christian minority and were claimed by the Islamic State (ISIS), whose affiliate Ansar Beit al-Maqdis is active in Sinai.
The state of emergency, secu­rity experts said, would give the authorities unhindered abilities to track suspected terrorists and raid their hideouts in all provinces.
“It also gives the president the right to refer terrorism cases to state security courts thus bringing about swift justice in these cases, which will contribute to stemming the terrorist tide,” said Khaled Okasha, a retired police lieutenant-general and the head of the Na­tional Centre for Security Studies, a Cairo-based think-tank.
Nonetheless, economists warned that the state of emergency would have a toll on investments being moved into Egypt, which is trying to attract foreign investors.
Last October. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi formed the Su­preme Investment Council to seek ways to attract investors and ease investment red tape. Egypt’s long-awaited investment law is expect­ed to be approved by parliament soon.
“All these measures will be futile in fact as long as we send the wrong message about security conditions in our country,” Hamaqi said. “Se­curity forces can fight terrorism and tighten the noose around ter­rorists without any exceptional se­curity measures.”
In 2016, Egypt attracted $6.8 billion in investments, the Invest­ment Ministry said, but to keep a lid on poverty and reach a satisfac­tory economic growth rate, Egypt needs to attract four times that volume of investments. This is a goal that will be hard to achieve during a state of emergency, which will last for at least three months, economists said.
Equally concerned are the country’s rights advocates who expressed fears about the lack of guarantees that the state of emer­gency would not be used in ways that increases rights abuses.
“There are no guarantees that this state (of emergency) will not open the door for abusing human rights,” said Nasser Amin, a rights advocate and a member of the Na­tional Council for Human Rights, Egypt’s rights watchdog. “This is particularly true in the light of past experiences.”
The state of emergency acquired its notoriety in the three decades of rule of autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak. When he came to power in 1981, Mubarak kept the state of emergency, which was imposed months earlier after the assassi­nation of Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat, intact. It was only abol­ished after Mubarak’s regime was brought down in 2011.
During those three decades, Amin and other rights advocates said, security forces could arrest activists, detain opponents and put innocent people in jail for long periods of time without trials.
In the past three years, rights groups said, hundreds — maybe thousands — of political activists were jailed only because they op­posed Sisi’s government. During the same period, the groups said, Egypt’s civil society organisations were harassed and some civil soci­ety workers were put imprisoned.
“The authorities need to send as­surances to the public that the state of emergency will only be used as a tool in the fight against terrorism,” said Mohamed Abdel Naiem, the head of local rights group United National Organisation for Human Rights. “They also need to show transparency as far as the arrest of people accused of involvement in terrorist operations is concerned.”