Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi on Saturday declared a state of emergency in North Sinai for a period of three months, beginning on Sunday, following a recent spate of attacks targeting security and army personnel in the province.
A state of emergency has been enforced in parts of the region since last October, but a statement issued by the Egyptian president said the current decision did not represent an extension of this, but rather a new decision that encompassed different areas in the restive province.
The Egyptian constitution stipulates a state of emergency can only be enforced for a period of three months and then renewed again, only once, for another three months.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday, Egyptian officials maintained the new decision was entirely constitutional since it was declaring a new state of emergency in different areas from the preexisting ones encompassed in the October 2014 decision.
While the new areas were not mentioned in the statement released by the Presidency announcing the decision, the officials, who requested anonymity, said they included “El-Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid,” all of which have recently seen attacks claimed by extremist groups.
The deadliest of these came in October of 2014 when a suicide bomber killed 30 soldiers near El-Arish, the province’s capital, and which was claimed by the Sinai Province extremist group.
The group initially called itself Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, but changed its name late last year after declaring its allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Sinai Province and other extremist groups in the restive region have killed hundreds of policemen and army personnel since July 2013, after the army, then led by Sisi, overthrew Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Mursi following mass protests against his one-year rule.
The new state of emergency will, as the previous one did, enforce a night curfew on all the areas it encompasses.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday, residents of the province expressed their dismay at the “extension” of the curfew.
“We were shocked when the governor of North Sinai, Maj. Gen. [Abdel-Fattah] Harhour informed us the curfew would be extended, despite all the [previous] talk about reducing the number of hours,” Amr Selim, the head of the Engineers’ Union in the province, said.
“Throughout the previous six months it was enforced the curfew did not succeed in protecting our armed forces, and most of the [terrorist] operations in the province occurred during that period,” he continued.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Harhour however said that “the benefits of the curfew exceed the costs.”
Despite his concern over the legality of the decision, Hafez Abu Saada, the head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, also concurred with Harhour’s assessment.
“This is a very difficult situation,” he said. “We have to give an excuse to the government [for taking the decision to enforce the curfew] because there are currently clashes on the ground, and if the curfew was removed it would put our armed forces at risk.”
However, he also said that “any extension of the curfew or the state of emergency represents an infringement of Egypt’s constitution.”
The decision coincides with Sinai Independence Day in Egypt, on Saturday, which marks the withdrawal of the last group of Israeli soldiers from the area in accordance with the Camp David Accords signed between Egypt and Israel in 1979, following the Yom Kippur (October) War in 1973.
Harhour said celebrations of the national holiday were canceled in North Sinai this year out of respect for members of the armed forces killed in last October’s suicide bomb attack. He insisted the security situation in the province had improved since then following the declaration of the state of emergency and the curfew.