Egypt’s justice ministry on Wednesday issued a decree authorising military-intelligence officers and military-police officers to arrest civilians, a right previously reserved for police officers alone.
Crimes to which the law will apply include "crimes and misdemeanours harmful to the government," "possession/use of explosives," "resisting orders issued by those in power or assaulting them," "destruction of public property or historic monuments," "obstructing traffic," "strikes at institutions that serve the public interest or assaulting the right to work," and "intimidation and thuggery.”
The decree, drafted earlier this month and announced in the official state newspaper on Wednesday, is reportedly based on Military Judiciary Law 25 of 1966. According to the ministry, the law will remain in effect until a new constitution is drafted.
Egypt's new national charter, and the mechanisms employed for selecting members of the Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting it, remains an issue of enormous controversy. On Monday, liberal and leftist figures walked out of the assembly – for the second time – after accusing Egypt’s Islamist parties of attempting to monopolise the constitution-drafting process.
Rights lawyer Gamal Eid told Ahram Online that the justice ministry’s published declaration did not represent a law per se, but rather a ministerial decree that could still be overturned by an act of parliament.
Rights organisations, for their part, quickly issued a joint response to the contentious decree, which has sparked outcry among many of Egypt’s post-revolution political forces. A Wednesday statement signed by 15 local rights organisations condemned the decree, saying it served to confirm that Egypt was a "military state."
"Several of the crimes included in the decree are actually rights, such as the right to freedom of expression against ruling powers or established laws, demonstrations and strikes," the statement read.
Rights groups also criticised Egypt’s ruling military council for the way it had dealt with security-related issues, stating: "Instead of restructuring and purging the interior ministry, the government appointed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is assigning the military a suspicious role in internal affairs – a role that should be limited to foreign affairs."
Liberal MP Amr Hamzawy, for his part, described the decree as "a revival of the state of emergency using different tools," declaring on Twitter that he planned to file a request with Parliament Speaker Saad El-Katatni that the decree be debated in parliament in the justice minister’s presence.