The Islamist-dominated Shura Council was mobilised on Monday to endorse President Mohamed Morsi’s declaration of a state of emergency in the three governorates bordering the Suez Canal, and to approve the military assuming police powers over civilians.
Shura Council chairman Ahmed Fahmi, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), said legislative amendments pertaining to Morsi’s new emergency measures were referred to the council on 27 January. In a plenary one-hour evening session on 28 January the Shura Council rubber-stamped the laws which had been rammed through a joint closed-room session of the council’s national security and legislative affairs committees that morning.
Sobhi Saleh, FJP deputy chairman of the council’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said the first piece of legislation discussed was an amendment to Decree 107/2012 which regulates the role of the Armed Forces in safeguarding vital public institutions.
“In this respect,” said Saleh, “the army will be granted powers exercised by police forces, while the president — upon a request from the interior minister and after consulting with the National Defence Council (NDC) — can also ask the army to provide support to police in the form of armed troops.”
“The law also gives the president of the republic the right to extend the extra powers granted to Armed Forces beyond the set time limit — currently until the end of legislative elections — should it be necessary.”
The changes, according to Saleh, do not mean that soldiers will automatically be deployed in the street but rather be stationed to protect vital state institutions.
“The law seeks to provide public institutions with army protection rather than impose emergency measures,” claimed Saleh.
The text approved by the Shura Council reads: “Without disrupting its role in safeguarding the country and maintaining the integrity of its land and security, the Armed Forces will take charge of supporting police forces and coordinating with them to impose security and safeguard the buildings of important state institutions until the end of the upcoming parliamentary elections and whenever the NDC, of which the president is a member, deems it necessary.” The text adds that “the minister of defence will determine where Armed Forces are deployed and what their missions will be.”
The law also states that in exercising judicial powers army personnel will be restricted by the criminal procedures law.
According to Sobhi, the Shura Council’s joint committee stressed that the use of Armed Forces in restoring order should not be at the request from the president of the republic, but rather with the approval of the NDC of which the president is a member.
The Shura Council then approved presidential decree 145/2013 declaring the state of emergency in Suez, Port Said and Ismailia, as is required under Article 148 of the constitution.
Article 148 states that “after obtaining cabinet approval the president of the republic will be entitled to declare a state of emergency as regulated by law, and this declaration must be discussed by the House of Representatives (the lower-house parliament) within the next seven days. If this declaration is issued while parliament is not in session, the House of Representatives will be reconvened at once to discuss it. If parliament is dissolved, the matter will be discussed by Shura Council and in that case the state of emergency should not exceed six months. It can be extended for one year with the approval of the people in a national referendum.”
Saleh explained that in its current legislative capacity, the Shura Council was required to endorse Morsi’s emergency declaration within seven days. He added that emergency measures grant army personnel the same powers as police officers when it comes to arresting civilians and referring them to civil prosecution authorities to be tried before civil courts.
Saleh insists the state of emergency is necessary to restore order after public utilities were attacked.
The Shura Council spokesman, FJP leader Essam Al-Erian, underlined that Morsi’s new emergency powers were only aimed at restoring calm and containing violence until parliamentary elections can be held.
“The legislative amendments do not mean the Armed Forces will become involved in political activities,” said Al-Erian. “The Armed Forces is being tasked with preserving Egypt’s security at a critical stage.”
Al-Erian added that the exceptional powers “do not mean that citizens’ freedoms will be negatively affected; the public will still have the right to organise peaceful demonstrations”.
Islamist MPs rounded on the secular opposition — led by the National Salvation Front (NSF) — on Sunday morning. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist parties accused the NSF of providing political cover for saboteurs.
Abdel-Hamid Barakat from the Islamist Labour Party accused Gamal Mubarak, the son of former president Hosni Mubarak, of funding the Black Bloc groups that have appeared on television screens in recent days. He then expanded the net and suggested “America and Israel have a hand in fomenting recent unrest in Egypt.”
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Omar Salem said during the Shura Council’s 28 January debate that “what has happened in recent days is not a revolution but a rebellion by thugs who want to spread havoc everywhere.”
While the Shura Council debated the laws on Monday evening, Saleh was busy arguing the Morsi’s administration was facing a conspiracy.
“There’s a conspiracy against the state and its institutions; this isn’t about peaceful protests but about spreading violence, releasing criminals and imposing a siege on the Shura Council,” claimed Saleh.
Ihab El-Kharat, chairman of the Shura Council’s Human Rights Committee and a member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, rejected the emergency measures.
“There is no need for emergency measures because ordinary laws already allow the military to help the police,” he said. “There is no need at the moment to give the Armed Forces judicial powers.”
“Egypt is suffering from a political crisis. There must be a political solution, not the imposition of draconian security measures.”
Mohamed Al-Kholi, a Shura member from the opposition Egyptian Current, complained when Fahmi refused to give him the floor to voice his rejection of the amendments. Al-Kholi tweeted that “it is clear the Islamist-dominated council rejects listening to any kind of opposition and that it is just interested in rubber-stamping Morsi’s authoritarian measures.”
Agreeing with Al-Kholi, Emad Gad, an Al-Ahram political analyst, told the Weekly that “the mobilisation of Shura Council to endorse Morsi’s authoritarian measures offers renewed proof that the council exists solely to rubber-stamp Morsi’s decrees and promote the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood.”