Egypt MPs propose amendments in criminal procedures law to fight terrorism

Gamal Essam El-Din , Monday 12 Dec 2016

Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal also said that the constitution could be amended if necessary to help Egypt foil terrorist acts

parliament speaker
Egypt's PArliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal (photo :Ahram)

Around 100 Egyptian MPs proposed on Monday that the Criminal Procedures Law, issued in 1950, be changed to help the country overcome terrorism.

The proposal, submitted by parliament deputy speaker and Wafdist MP Soliman Wahdan, suggests that 1950's criminal procedure law and 2014's presidential decree on protection of public property, be amended to allow all terrorism-related crimes to be referred to military courts.

Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal also said that the constitution could be amended if necessary to help Egypt foil terrorist acts.

The MPs proposal came one day after a bombing attack on a church attached to St. Mark's Coptic Cathedral in Cairo left 24 dead and more than 40 injured.

After attending funeral services for the victims in east Cairo's district of Nasr City on Monday, MPs returned to parliament with differing perspectives.

Speaker Abdel-Aal told MPs in a plenary session that parliament is determined to uproot terrorism and obliterate "dark forces" in Egypt, even if this requires amending the country's 2014 constitution.

"Let me repeat, if it has become necessary that the constitution be amended to allow terrorism cases to be referred to military courts, parliament will not hesitate to ask for it," said Abdel-Aal.

The parliament speaker said one Western European country is currently debating an amendment to its constitution that would allow those convicted of terrorism crimes to be stripped of their nationality.

"This change to the constitution was presented in this country under the title of 'the Protection of the Nation Amendment," said Abdel-Aal.

Wahdan's proposal calls for "a new article by the name of 231 article to be added to 1950's law on criminal procedures require that 'all terrorism-related crimes be referred to military justice."

The proposal also states that article one of 2014's decree be amended to read: "without affecting the main role of the armed forces in safeguarding the nation and maintaining the integrity of its land and security, the military in full cooperation with police forces will participate in safeguarding vital public property, including electricity stations and pylons, gas and oil pipelines, railway tracks, networks of roads and bridges, and all other forms of public assets.

"Places of worship will be also considered public places and all of these will be classified as military installations as long as they are under the guard and protection of the military and those who attack these installations will be automatically referred to trial before military courts."

In a different proposal, Bahaaeddin Abu Shokka, head of parliament's legislative and constitutional affairs committee and secretary-general of Egypt's Al-Wafd party, proposed that the terrorism law (no.94 of 2015) be amended to designate certain judicial court circuits for the sole review of terrorism-related crimes.

"These circuits, which would be attached to appeal courts, will be asked to issue rulings on terrorism-related crimes within one week, and defendants will have the right to contest verdicts only one time," Abu Shokka proposed.

He added that "Parliament needs trials to be simultaneously fair and quick, with strict observance of the constitution and legislation," Abu Shokka stressed.

Joining forces with Abdel-Aal, the pro-government parliamentary bloc "Support Egypt", proposed Monday that all terrorism-related legislation should be amended to "stand up to recent, dangerous developments in terrorism crimes."

"Terrorists should face quick trials, and if existing laws do not allow this, the constitution itself should be amended to pave the way for this," said head of the bloc Mohamed El-Sewedi.

El-Sewedi, however, supported Wahdan's proposal that the existing criminal procedure law  be amended to more easily refer terrorism cases to "quick and firm trials."

Speaker Abdel-Aal told MPs that "Terrorism aims to kill all Egyptians without discrimination between Muslims and Christians, saying the most lowly terrorist acts are the ones which aim to blow up mosques and churches."

"The message after the explosion in the Coptic cathedral yesterday is that terrorism targets all Egyptians – Muslims and Christians – but I am sure that Egyptians will not bow to this terrorism," said Abdel-Al, adding that "parliament will use all means possible to foil terrorist acts and make sure that terrorists fail to drive a wedge between Muslim and Christian Egyptians."

Abdel-Aal urged that all churches in Egypt be provided with "electronic closed-circuit cameras ahead of Christmas celebrations," adding that "this is an urgent measure to safeguard churches against acts of terrorism.'

Abdel-Aal concluded that "if we fail to stand firm against terrorism, there will be no economy, no politics and no state in Egypt."

The parliament speaker praised Egyptian Christians, saying that they have paid a dear price in the form of hundreds of victims.

After Monday's funeral services, deputy speaker Mahmoud El-Sherif told reporters that "parliament will give priority to amending the criminal procedures law." 

"We hope within a few days that parliament's legislative and constitutional affairs committee, in cooperation with the minister of parliamentary affairs Magdy El-Agati, will be able to finish amending this law in order to make terrorists face quick and firm trials before a court," said El-Sherif.

El-Sherif indicated that parliament could go as far as approving the imposition of the emergency law to help foil terrorist attacks.

"Please note that countries like France resorted to implementing emergency law after a flurry of terrorist attacks hit the country this year," he said.

El-Sherif said the proposal that terrorism-related crimes be referred to military courts needs some review by parliament's constitutional and legislative affairs committee.

"We have to see first whether this proposal does not contravene the constitution," said El-Sherif, adding that "I agree that if the constitution itself needs amending in order to refer terrorism-related crimes to military courts, parliament will not hesitate to support this."

El-Sherif said the imposition of military tribunals in the 1990s was highly effective in stemming the tide of terrorist crimes in Egypt at the time.

El-Agati told MPs that he prefers amending the criminal procedure law to help expedite trials of terrorist suspects.

"Let me insist that there is no problem with the existing penalties for terrorist crimes; the problem lies with the long time these trials take without justification," said El-Agati.

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