A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

SCAF to Lift Emergency Tomorrow . . . Mostly

Field Marshal Tantawi has announced that Egypt's SCAF will lift the State of Emergency tomorrow on the first anniversary of the outbreak of protests that brought down Husni Mubarak. Or rather, will mostly lift it. It will still apply in cases of "thuggery" (حالات جرائم البلطجة). What does that mean? Unfortunately, I fear the answer is "whatever we want it to mean," but given the fact that one of the first demands of the demonstrators was lifting the Emergency and that after the Revolution SCAF actually expanded its scope, any lifting of it is presumably a good thing. It's the latest step in a struggle between the Army and the Islamists on the one hand and the revolutionary movement on the other on who gets to define the January 25 anniversary; the Army wants to brand any protests tomorrow as counter-revolutionary, since it claims it will be celebrating the revolution. (Re: "thuggery," on the word baltagiyya, see here.)

The Emergency has allowed arbitrary arrests and detentions, trial of civilians in military courts, and many other abuses targeted by the protesters. What's more, it has been in place, with one brief interlude, for nearly 45 years. Originally imposed in 1967 after the War with Israel, it was lifted for a bit over a year in 1980 by Anwar Sadat after the peace with Israel, though no great outburst of liberal reform took place. When Sadat was assassinated in October 1981, it was reimposed and has been in effect ever since; it's more or less been a permanent "Emergency." In 2010 Mubarak relaxed it, claiming to limit it to cases of narcotics and terrorism only, but last year SCAF broadened it again. The "thuggery" exception almost certainly means SCAF will still be able to arrest demonstrators more or less arbitrarily, but I'm willing to be pleasantly surprised to learn otherwise.

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