Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1125, 6 - 12 December 2012
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1125, 6 - 12 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

The military under fire

Egypt’s Armed Forces has voiced concerns about articles in the draft constitution that affect its status, writes Amirah Ibrahim

Al-Ahram Weekly

As the Constituent Assembly tasked with writing Egypt’s new constitution was putting the draft constitution to the vote during its final session on 29 November, two military commanders representing the armed forces and the military police were involved in fierce arguments to guarantee that the new constitution maintained a privileged status for the army.
However, at the end of the drafting process the military appeared not to be satisfied with many of the articles, which it views as potentially affecting the performance of the troops or even leading to an undesired confrontation with the political leadership.
The draft constitution allocates two chapters to military issues, one for national security and defence and the other for the military judiciary.
Article 193 of the first chapter stipulates the establishment of a national security council that would be responsible for approving measures necessary to guarantee security, confront disasters and handle crises. Headed by the president, the new body would be composed of the prime minister, the speakers of the People’s Assembly and Shura Council, the ministers of defence, interior, finance, foreign affairs, justice, and health, the head of intelligence and the heads of the national security and defence committees at the People’s Assembly and Shura Council.
The article was said to be included to meet Islamist ambitions to take part in directing military policy. “Members of the assembly argued that parliament must supervise and control the new national security council,” Major-General Mamdouh Shahine, assistant to the defence minister on legal affairs and a member of the assembly, explained.
“They said that policies related to national security were among their responsibilities, and as a result the new national security council should be created as a separate body where parliament can monitor military policies but not design them, since the latter is the Armed Forces’ absolute responsibility.”
Another controversial article, number 197, covers the formation of the national defence council. This is to be formed of 50 per cent military commanders and 50 per cent cabinet members and is to be headed by the president.
“This body is more involved in military issues than the national security council. The defence council is responsible for discussing the means to ensure safety and security and the armed forces budget, and it must be consulted about legislation related to the military,” Shahine said.
The June 2012 constitutional declaration issued by the then ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) formed the national defence council of 11 military commanders and seven civilians, including the president.
However, the June declaration was cancelled in August by another declaration passed by President Mohamed Morsi. The national defence council under the newly-drafted constitution is to consist of a majority of civilians, and the president may be added to the non-military members.
The new status of the army in the constitution angered many officers. “This body is responsible for mobilising forces and handling military operations. Why should non-military officials control such critical issues? What do they know about war? Nothing,” stated a colonel who asked for anonymity.
“The worst part is the declaration of war. The president now is not committed to get the approval of the SCAF, but only to ask for its opinion,” he added.
Under Article 146 of the draft constitution, the president needs to seek the opinion of the national defence council in addition to getting the approval of parliament before declaring war. Parliament can only approve this by an absolute majority.
“This could let the Islamists, if they dominate the coming parliament, send us off to die defending other people’s land. This is what the late president Nasser did in the 1960s, and he was strongly attacked for it by the Muslim Brotherhood which now plans to repeat his mistakes.”
When ousted former president Hosni Mubarak decided to send Egyptian troops to Kuwait in 1990 during the Gulf War, he asked only for the approval of parliament. However, many officers refused to obey and resigned their commissions.  
Another controversial article in the new constitution is Article 195, which stipulates that “the defence minister is to hold the post of commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces and is to be chosen from its officers.”
“The article does not specify that the defence minister is to come from the acting armed forces. As a result, the president could choose a retired general and assign him to lead the forces even if he knows nothing about current conditions and the readiness of the troops,” said an army brigadier.  
Military experts warn that assigning retired army officers could be a threat to national security. The possibility that President Morsi could appoint a retired general with recent membership of the Muslim Brotherhood was excluded by a majority of army officers, who preferred to believe that the Islamists would not challenge the military in this way.
Following the dismissal of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi earlier this year, the Brotherhood leaked the news that a retired general who had joined the group following his retirement would take over the post of defence minister.
Abbas Mekhimar, a former military intelligence aide who retired seven years ago, was rumoured to be favoured for the post. According to the leaks, Mekhimar was to replace Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi as soon as the tense political atmosphere calmed down.
Military law stipulates that replacing the defence minister should only be done through the SCAF, which nominates a new commander-in-chief to the president whose role is limited to endorsing the choice.
Yet, bearing in mind the wide powers the president now enjoys, nothing can now be excluded.

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