HRW criticises 'sweeping power' over civilian life of Egypt's military

HRW criticises 'sweeping power' over civilian life of Egypt's military
Over the past decade, the Egyptian thousands of regime critics and activists have faced trials before military courts whose verdicts are final.
3 min read
Egypt - Cairo
05 March, 2024
In July 2022, Sisi appointed a military judge as the deputy president of the Supreme Constitutional Court for the first time in Egypt's history. [Getty]

Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticised on Tuesday, 5 March, what it described as "the sweeping power of the Egyptian military" after a law had been enacted that grants more legal authority to army personnel over civilians.

The New York-based international watchdog further warned in a statement that the legislation in question "will likely entrench and widen the already broad powers of the Egyptian military over civilian life in a manner that undermines rights."

As per the law passed earlier in January, the country's military personnel can fully or partially replace certain functions of police forces or the civilian judiciary, which has further extended the presence of the controversial jurisdiction of military courts to prosecute civilians.

The defence minister was, accordingly, granted the authority to decide numbers, locations, tasks, and distribution of military personnel "as required by the nature of their work inside those locations".

Live Story

On 22 January, the government presented before the lower house of the parliament a new law and amendments to the already existing legislation to be swiftly and unanimously approved by the country's MPs with little to no discussion or edits in one plenary session six days later.

"This provision could be utilised to permanently deploy military personnel at civilian government facilities, which can undermine their independence or lead to abusive crackdowns by military forces on peaceful assemblies near such facilities," the group argued.

"Entrenching the military's domination over civilian life is a strategy to contain increasing discontent over the Egyptian government's dismal failures to uphold and ensure basic economic and political rights," said Amr Magdi, senior Egypt researcher at HRW.

"Egypt's financial crisis will not be solved by railroading increasing numbers of Egyptians through patently unfair military trials and locking them away," he added.

The mostly pro-government media outlets promoted the law as required for securing vital and public facilities and controlling illegal commercial activities amid the ongoing economic crisis and inflation that led the prices of basic commodities to skyrocket.

Ever since the-then Defence Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ousted Egypt's first democratically President, Mohamed Morsi, in a military coup, the army has emerged as a dominant state institution, controlling the economy, operating mega projects across vast commercial sectors as well as other aspects of life in the country.

Interior ministry sources previously told The New Arab that there had been a growing state of discontent and rage among senior police officers for being supervised by military officers whose ranks, in many cases, were lower than theirs.  

"After he assumed the presidency, Sisi has widely been known to have raised the authority and benefits offered to army personnel as well as the judiciary to allegedly guarantee their blind loyalty to him as he controlled the country with an iron fist," a prominent human rights lawyer told TNA on condition of anonymity for fear of their safety.

Live Story

"Most vital locations, as well as polling stations during parliamentary and presidential elections over the past years, have been secured by the army, clearly having the upper hand on the police," the lawyer added.

In July 2022, for the first time in the country's history, Sisi appointed a military judge as the deputy president of the Supreme Constitutional Court.

Over the past decade, the government of Sisi has justified the much-contested military trials of civilians as being necessary to address waves of violent attacks targeting public facilities following the 2013 coup.

In recent years, thousands of regime critics and activists have arguably faced unjust trials before military courts whose verdicts are final and cannot be appealed.