HCC stance on right of army, police to vote draws mixed reactions

Ahram Online , Sunday 26 May 2013

High Constitutional Court (HCC)'s assertion that draft political rights law shouldn't bar military, police personnel from voting draws mixed reactions from both of Egypt's political camps

Shura Council
Islamist and members of the Brotherhood in the Shura Council, raise their hands to approve a discussion on a new judicial law during its meeting in Cairo May 25, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

A declaration by Egypt's High Constitutional Court (HCC) stating that members of the military and police should be eligible to vote in elections will not be challenged by the Shura Council (the upper house of Egypt's parliament, currently endowed with legislative powers), Parliamentary Affairs Minister Hatem Bagato said Sunday.

"HCC rulings are the constitution; no one can go against them," Bagato, a former HCC judge, told Al-Ahram's Arabic-language news website.

According to Egypt's new constitution, all laws drafted by parliament must be subject to review by the HCC. If the court finds any of the proposed legislation unconstitutional, that legislation must be amended.

Egypt's Islamist current views the HCC with extreme suspicion. Last December, the court was besieged by Islamist protesters who prevented the court from issuing a ruling on the constitutionality of Egypt's Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly, tasked with drafting a new national charter.

The HCC was severely criticised by Islamist groups after it issued a ruling calling for the dissolution of Egypt's first post-revolution lower house of parliament, in which Islamist parties had won roughly three quarters of the seats. The court had ruled the law governing parliamentary polls to be unconstitutional.

The court's decision on Saturday deeming the vote ban on police and military members unconstitutional – as had a previous law – drew criticism from several quarters.

While Bagato saw the HCC decision as obligatory – and in line with citizens' constitutional right to vote – he also said that, in his personal opinion, the military and police should be kept out of domestic politics.

Essam El-Erian, head of the parliamentary bloc of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, voiced concern about the implications of the HCC decision. Speaking to Turkish news agency Anadolu, he asked whether the military and police apparatus would provide lists of their members to political campaigners.

Mohamed Abdel-Latif, head of the Islamist Wasat Party's bloc in the Shura Council (currently allied with the Muslim Brotherhood) also voiced concern about the HCC's move. 

Abdel-Latif believes that Egypt's military institution and police apparatus should avoid being polarised by partisan politics, telling Anadolu that he doubted that the army would approve the change.

Non-Islamist reactions

George Ishaq, a leading figure in Egypt's opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) umbrella group, vehemently rejected the notion of voting by military and police personnel, a practice he described as "dangerous."

Ishaq told Anadolu that both institutions should remain politically neutral, especially since they provided security for polling stations. He asked how the two institutions could both protect and participate in polling simultaneously.

Others, however, voiced support for the HCC decision.

Spokesman for the liberal Free Egyptians Party, Waguih Shehab, told Al-Ahram's Arabic-language news website on Sunday that soldiers and policemen were "also citizens" and thus should enjoy the right to vote. He believes Islamist groups will react to the HCC ruling negatively, due to their "unjustified antagonism" to the constitutional court. 

Mohamed Abul-Ghar, for his part, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP), voiced support for the decision, telling Al-Ahram that he believed the Muslim Brotherhood was intent on issuing faulty laws to delay elections due to its dwindling popularity.

Both the Free Egyptian Party and the ESDP are members of the NSF opposition umbrella group. 

Shura Council member and former head of Egypt's military judiciary Adel Morsi, meanwhile, voiced strong reservations about the HCC declaration. He told Al-Ahram that a previous 1956 law allowing military personnel to vote had revealed the drawbacks of such a law, leading soldiers to become preoccupied with political affairs. The 1956 law, Morsi noted, was ultimately amended.

While police and army personnel retain the right of citizenship, he added, there exists "an executive difficulty" in granting them the right to vote. He pointed out that Egypt's current military service law barred soldiers and conscripts from engaging in political activity while in service.

A military source told Al-Ahram that the Egyptian Armed Forces had yet to issue its position regarding the HCC decision. The military establishment, the source added, was still studying the proposition.

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