Reference Points

by zunguzungu

By 2005, there was considerable international (i.e., American) and domestic political pressure to lift the state of emergency and the laws that go with it—a commitment Mubarak made in his run for a fifth term. Yet Mubarak subsequently argued that since Egypt continued to confront the related threats of terrorism and extremism, in order for him to keep his campaign promise, the constitution would need to be amended before he would rescind the Emergency Law. The ensuing constitutional amendments provided a basis for the repeal of the state of emergency and its concomitant laws only because critical components of these regulations were now to be written into the constitution. For example, whereas the Emergency Law once gave the president the power to refer civilians to military tribunals, that prerogative would now be enshrined in Article 179 of the constitution. The same article also allowed Egyptian authorities to ignore protections against arbitrary arrest, warrantless searches, and violations of privacy when prosecuting terrorism cases. Over the years, the Egyptian government used an expansive definition of the term “terrorism” that allowed them to refer not only extremists to military tribunals, but also members of the Brotherhood—which had not been involved in violence since the 1940s—and other opposition activists. The changes to Article 179 did nothing to change this and actually enabled the government’s overly broad classification of terrorism and terrorists.


[The Egyptian government argued that] the changes to Article 179 were similar to provisions contained in the U.S. Patriot Act that passed in both houses of Congress in October 2001 by wide margins. These arguments were superficial, but nevertheless deflected, if not silenced, criticism of the regime in Washington and elsewhere. The disingenuousness of the Mubarak era was reinforced when, despite the amendments to Article 179 that were ostensibly necessary to cancel the state of emergency, the National Democratic Party–controlled parliament renewed the Emergency Law in 2008 and again in 2010. It was no coincidence that after the January 25, 2011, uprising that ousted Mubarak, Egyptians voted to amend Article 88, giving judges the responsibility for all aspects of elections and referenda. In the same vote, Article 179 was deleted from the constitution altogether.

From Steven Cook’s The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square, p191