To make up for the scrapping of the emergency law the government has granted the military and civil police and intelligence agents judicial powers, reports Reem Leila
A decree issued by Minister of Justice Adel Abdel-Hamid Abdallah giving the military intelligence and military police the right to detain civilians for non-military-linked offences came into effect on 15 June. Two days earlier Major-General Adel El-Mursi, head of the Military Judiciary Authority, said the decree had been issued to help combat security instability during the presidential run-offs, a rationale most commentators and human rights groups found laughable.
Military arrest powers are a temporary measure, claimed El-Mursi, made necessary because the police have yet to recover following the 25 January Revolution. "The police have not yet returned to full force and there is a security shortfall," he said.
The decision, which is based on military judiciary Law 25/1966, includes at least 11 offences. Most of them are related to the right to demonstrate, crimes and misdemeanours, intimidation and thuggery, disobeying police orders or assaulting them. This includes resisting authorities, damaging public and private buildings as well as harming the country's national security. The extension of arrest powers will continue to be in effect until a new constitution is issued.
El-Mursi pointed out that military arrest powers are a temporary measure, especially that civil police did not fully recover from last year's collapse during the 25 January Revolution. "Police have not yet recovered completely, and security is not back. There is a dire need to enable them to carry out security campaigns to arrest criminals," said El-Mursi.
Political analyst Hassan Nafaa, professor of political science at Cairo University, stated the decision of last week was identical to declaring martial law and provided solid evidence of what was long suspected -- that the Armed Forces want to seize power after handing presidential authorities to the elected president. "The government is reviving the state of emergency but with different tools," said Nafaa.
For the past 30 years, the emergency law, which expired by the end of last month, provided vast powers to police to arrest whoever they suspect. After the revolution many police officers were accused of abusing their authority. During the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak, police abuses were rarely punished.
Human rights lawyer Gamal Eid agrees with Nafaa and added the Justice Ministry's decree is law which could be easily overturned. "Rights organisations, for their part, immediately issued a joint statement on the controversial decree and was signed by 17 human rights organisations which condemned the decree, saying it confirms the idea of Egypt as a military state," said Eid.
The human rights organisations filed a lawsuit in the Administrative Court to appeal the minister of justice's decree. Rights groups also condemned the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) for the way it had dealt with security issues, stating, "instead of restructuring and cleansing the Interior Ministry of its corrupt figures, the government is extending more military powers to its security bodies to be used in internal affairs." In a joint statement, the 17 organisations said the decision increases doubts over SCAF's promise to hand over power to an elected civilian president, as it strengthens suspicions that the transfer of power "is not true" and would not keep the SCAF from remaining in power as a major player in the political arena. According to Eid, during the former regime, there were more than 10,000 people in detention for no specific reason.
Nafaa pointed out that SCAF and Ministry of Justice officials claim that augmentation of arrest powers would continue to be in effect until the issuing of a new constitution. However, he said this is very unlikely to happen. "Just like most things in the country's political life these days, this process, too, is burdened with serious consequences. This decree is mirroring a state of chaos which is echoed in the society's state of instability and insecurity," said Nafaa.
Nafaa believes the decree provides unprecedented powers to the country's security apparatus that is not supported by the law. "The decree is a step backwards and a real threat to democracy," he said.
At the same time, Eid believes that parliament has the legal authority and right to thwart a ministerial decision. Parliament, though, was dismantled this week according to a ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC).