Egypt Supreme Court blocks arrest powers for military, hailed by experts

Randa Ali , Tuesday 26 Jun 2012

Legal and political experts express satisfaction over verdict that declared military's right to arrest civilians null and void; some say it is a pivotal step in the transition of power from military to civil authority

Egyptian army officers arrest a suspected demonstrator (Photo: Reuters)

The decision of Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court on Tuesday to nullify the recent decree enabling military police to arrest civilians is a positive step towards the anticipated end of the military rule, and also limits the highly controversial powers of the temporary junta that were notably magnified of late, said various legal and political experts.

Many critics believe that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which assumed power on an interim basis after the ouster of ex-president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, has gained unfettered authority as a result of a host of recent court verdicts and decisions.

After they dismantled the People’s Assembly (the parliament’s lower house) pursuant to a court verdict stipulating that the law governing last winter’s parliamentary elections was unconstitutional, the military rulers took on legislative powers that will last until a new parliamentary chamber is elected.

Later on June 17, the last day of the presidential runoffs which led to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi being declared president-elect, the ruling junta made another controversial move by introducing an 'addendum' to last year’s Constitutional Declaration, a move that also gave the military body more powers at the expense of the president’s, and more legislative powers.

The articles of the amended Constitutional Declaration put the SCAF in sole charge of the armed forces and its affairs, including selecting military leaders such as the defence minister. The president will also not be able to declare a state of war or order the deployment of troops, even to contain domestic disturbances, without the military council's consent, according to the terms of the constitutional addendum.

Politically, the SCAF has the authority to appoint a new Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution, should the current assembly be dismantled.

Further to the dissatisfaction of revolutionary forces, who have been at loggerheads with the SCAF for over a year, the military council’s announcement of the constitutional annex came four days days after a decree from the justice ministry was passed, that gives military police the right to arrest civilians, a right previously reserved for civilian police officers.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Administrative Court put off four rulings, which covered the fate of the new constitutional addendum, the defunct People’s Assembly, the Shura Council (the parliament’s upper house) that might well be dissolved on the same grounds that saw the other parliamentary chamber dismantled, and the Constituent Assembly which is jeopardised as a result of the parliament’s unconstitutionality. The court, however, overruled the decree that empowered military police to arrest civilians.

Lawyer Gamal Eid is relieved over the latter verdict. He told Ahram Online: "The ruling put the military where it belongs - back in the barracks. It was issued with the intention of serving the military only."

While speaking to Ahram Online, Ahmed Mekki, former vice-president of the cassation court, elaborated on the matter by saying, "It would have been catastrophic if present with the supplementary constitutional addendum; would have given the SCAF legislative authority when it should only be concerned with matters related to the armed forces. The ruling limited SCAF's authority."

Lawyer Hossam Eissa echoed similar sentiments, saying that "the ruling limited the SCAF's authorities."

"I expected the decree to be revoked; it was illegal in the first place, and even if the court had not ruled against it, [president-elect Mohamed] Morsi's first decision would have been to nullify this decree."

The decree was reportedly based on the Military Judiciary Law 25 of 1966.

Pro-revolution academic and former MP Amr Hamzawy also sounded content over the court decision, describing the verdict as "a great decision that protects human rights."

Although the administrative court’s ruling satisfied many, the four pending cases are still causing political unrest. However, Eid stated that "it's logical that the other trials have been postponed, they vary and need more time to be looked into."

As three of the cases were postponed till next month, the trial of the Constituent Assembly was adjourned until 4 September, which gives the assembly’s members a respite to fulfil its task – tasking the new constitution – without pressure, Judge Mekki believes. "Postponing the trial against the Constituent Assembly would give them a chance to finish off their work," he said.

The Constituent Assembly held its third meeting on Tuesday. The assembly has yet to agree on its work methodology.

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