ISIL is ending with a whimper rather than a bang. This week, the Iraqi government announced that the so-called “caliphate” has been defeated in Mosul, the largest city it had managed to control for the past three years. The fringe terrorist organization, which once mesmerized and horrified the world, only has a few small desert towns left in northern Iraq and eastern Syria. Its biggest lasting impact will most likely be on civil liberties in the Middle East and throughout the world, as ambitious government elites have used it as a pretext to grab power. This development is no surprise in Egypt or Turkey—but French democracy is also in danger.
After an ISIL-inspired attacks in Tunisia in 2015, the government of Beji Caid Essebsi imposed a state of emergency, which it renewed just last month. It allows suppression of demonstrations and trial of civilians in military tribunals. Terrorism is a threat to Tunisia, with spillover from the faction-fighting in Libya a concern. As a new democracy that has carried out successful parliamentary elections since the overthrow of dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in January of 2011, however, Tunisia needs to consolidate human and civil rights. As in other cases around the world where states of emergency have been implemented supposedly to fight terrorism, the Essebsi government is showing marked signs of mission creep. The provisions are now being used against corrupt businessmen and smugglers who are being court-martialed when they could more appropriately be tried in civilian courts.
Given that Egypt under President (formerly Field Marshall) Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is more or less a military dictatorship with little or no rule of law, it may not matter much that the government there, too, announced a state of emergency last January after an ISIL-related attack on Coptic Christians, who form some 6 percent of the Egyptian population. In the months since, radical Muslims have killed some 100 Copts. The state of emergency has allowed the Sisi government to continue its vendetta against the Muslim Brotherhood, a conservative fundamentalist group that seeks to bring Islam into politics. Sisi, who overthrew an elected Muslim Brotherhood president in 2013, maintains that the Brotherhood is a terrorist organization indistinguishable from ISIL, which is not true. The Egyptian state is fighting a determined insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, where just last weekend ISIL-affiliated fighters killed 26 soldiers. This situation does not require a state of emergency throughout the country, especially since the government routinely rides roughshod over basic human rights in any case. Presumably, the state of emergency is a hedge against any judge brave enough actually to apply the 2014 constitution in defense of citizens’ rights.