On April 9, Palm Sunday, two deadly attacks against Coptic Christians targeted churches in Tanta and Alexandria, Egypt, within hours of each other. The Islamic State claimed the attacks, which killed 49 people and wounded about 120 more. In their wake, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi announced the start of a three-month nationwide state of emergency — the first since 2013, when the country was also under emergency rule. (In 2014, the government implemented an area-specific state of emergency in the Sinai, which continues to be periodically extended.) Al-Sisi also announced the establishment of a Supreme Anti-Terrorism Council that will be granted unspecified powers to shape a wide range of media and religious discourse. Amendments to the criminal code have also been fast-tracked to expedite the trials of terror suspects. On April 10, parliament approved both the state of emergency as well as the amendments to the criminal code.
All Egyptians have been feeling the increased threat of terrorism, but the Copts have been under even greater threat. The Islamic State in Sinai in recent months has issued warnings directed specifically at Coptic Christians in the Sinai Peninsula, prompting at least a hundred Coptic Christian families to take refuge in cities farther west. The government offered financial restitution to some of the families, but anger is palpable among many Egyptians, Coptic and otherwise, over the lack of improved security measures, despite the threats and other similar attacks.
The current countrywide state of emergency, the first since al-Sisi became president, gives the Egyptian government more options to target terror suspects and plots. But of course, it also gives the government more justification and greater means to crack down on any perceived threats, even political. In fact, there is precedent: In 2013, after the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi, the new government used a state of emergency to consolidate power during a period of uncertainty and unrest. However, the controversial actions taken during that period damaged U.S.-Egypt ties. This time around, though, with a different administration in Washington, there is little risk of creating more tension. Cairo will take full advantage of the lack of interference, especially with the transfer of the two Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia, which has sparked a fair amount of dissent in Egypt and which has recently come to the forefront again as the ties between Egypt and Saudi Arabia have mended.