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Endless Emergency: The Case of Egypt

23 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2008 Last revised: 20 Mar 2008

Sadiq Reza

Criminal Justice Institute, Harvard Law School


The Arab Republic of Egypt has been in a declared state of emergency continuously since 1981 and for all but three of the past fifty years. Emergency powers, military courts, and other exceptional powers are governed by longstanding statutes in Egypt and authorized by the constitution, and their use is a prominent feature of everyday rule there today. This essay presents Egypt as a case study in what is essentially permanent governance by emergency rule and other exceptional measures. It summarizes the history and framework of emergency rule in Egypt, discusses the apparent purposes and consequences of that rule, mentions judicial limitations on it, and notes the many targets of its exercise over the years, particularly the government's two most prominent and persistent groups of opponents: Islamists and liberal political activists. It also explains how the country's March 2007 constitutional amendments, much-decried by human-rights organizations inside and outside Egypt, further entrench emergency rule there. The central thesis of the essay is that the existence and exercise of emergency powers have been far from exceptional in Egypt; instead they have been a vehicle for the creation of the modern Egyptian state and a tool for the consolidation and maintenance of political power by the government.

Keywords: Egypt, emergency, exceptional

Suggested Citation

Reza, Sadiq, Endless Emergency: The Case of Egypt. New Criminal Law Review, Vol. 10, p. 532, 2007; Islamic Law and Law of the Muslim World Paper No. 08-11; Boston Univ. School of Law Working Paper No. 08-12; NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 07/08-18. Available at SSRN:

Sadiq Reza (Contact Author)

Criminal Justice Institute, Harvard Law School ( email )

Cambridge, MA
United States
617-495-9762 (Phone)


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