Egypt is not the first country in the world to declare a “war on terror,” but it is one of the only nations to have written counterterrorism into its constitution. Last month, an overwhelming 98.1 percent of voters approved Egypt’s new charter in a referendum marred by a heavy-handed military campaign to stifle dissent. The new constitution further marginalizes Islamists from political life and enhances the powers of the military and security services by, among other things, banning all political activity based on religion and giving the military veto authority over the president’s choice of defense minister for the next eight years. But as problematic as those measures are, one of the constitution’s most alarming sections has been overlooked: an unprecedented counterterrorism clause that lays the legal foundation for a police state that is a military dictatorship in all but name.
Buried on page 62 of a rambling document that most Egyptians admit they have not even read is Article 237, the most sweeping counterterrorism mandate in any Egyptian constitution. It obligates the state to “fight all types and forms of terrorism and track its sources of funding within a specific time frame in recognition of the threat it represents to the nation and citizens.” Article 237 doesn’t define “terrorism” or the scope of the powers it grants the government, deferring them to future legislation. But for now, Egypt has no parliament. The military dissolved it last summer as part of its overthrow of former President Mohammed Morsi. With new parliamentary elections not expected until later this year, legislative authority rests solely in the hands of the military-appointed interim president, Adly Mansour.
Since his appointment in July, Mansour has been the civilian face of de facto military rule, but even this veneer of civilian oversight will soon be brushed aside. Shortly after the constitutional referendum, Mansour announced that presidential elections would take place by April, before parliamentary polls, reversing the sequence originally outlined in the transitional roadmap issued in July and