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Constitution committee in deadlock over military articles: Sources

Army representatives in Egypt's constitution-amending body refuse to eliminate military trials for civilians

Ahram Online, Monday 30 Sep 2013
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Military representatives in Egypt's constitution-amending committee have rejected two proposals intended to curb military power in the constitution, bringing the committee debate with civilian representatives – who stress the need for both amendments – to a standstill.

The first amendment proposes banning military trials for civilians.  The second would eliminate the need for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) – the Egyptian military's governing body – to approve the appointment of a defence minister.

The four-hour meeting, which took place on Monday in the presence of the committee's two army representatives, ended with both parties insisting on their respective stances, sources told Al-Ahram's Arabic website.

According to the sources, deputy defence minister and committee military representative Mohamed El-Assar said that the elimination of military trials for civilians in the constitution would "undermine the army's status."

As a concession, El-Assar proposed that military trials for civilians remain only for those civilians charged with "assaulting military property." However, the committee's civilian representatives rejected the concession, insisting on prohibiting military trials for all civilians without exception.

All Egyptian constitutions, including the now-suspended 2012 constitution approved by a referendum in December, have allowed civilians to face military trials.

Article 174 in the amended charter, prepared in August by a ten-member technical committee, allows for military trials of civilians only for crimes that "represent a direct assault on the armed forces."

However, several committee members have previously announced that the majority of the committee's civilian representatives favor banning military trials completely.

In the political upheaval that resulted during the military's temporary rule after the January 25, 2011 Revolution, thousands of citizens arrested by security forces were investigated by military prosecution, drawing domestic and international outcry.

Civilian representatives also voiced strong rejections to an article which states that the defence minister must be approved by the SCAF. Military representatives justify the article on the grounds that the constitution also grants the judiciary the right to approve its appointed leader.

Former presidential candidate and committee member Amr Moussa suggested that an ad-hoc committee be formed to discuss the disagreements.

The constitution-amending committee, announced in early September by the country's interim presidency, is tasked with amending controversial articles in the now-suspended 2012 constitution.

An amended constitution draft, according to the interim government's roadmap that was implemented  following the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi, should be ready for a national referendum within 60 days of the committee's formation.

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