Egyptʹs political future
Generalissimo Sisi

Proposed amendments to Egyptʹs constitution will enshrine the militaryʹs position above the state by giving it greater legal means to intervene against elected governments and prosecute political opponents. Egypt is set to become a military dictatorship in name as well as deed. By Maged Mandour

On 3 February, Egyptian parliamentarians from Tahya Misr ("Support Egypt"), a coalition supporting President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi that comprises one-fifth of parliament, submitted a proposal to amend the Egyptian constitution. Two days later, the General Committee accepted the proposed amendments, a preliminary step that opens the way for a parliamentary debate.

The twelve amendments and nine new articles are likely to pass, as only a simple majority is needed to approve a constitutional amendment and, according to Speaker of the House Ali Abdul Aal, two-thirds of the parliament already endorses them.

As expected, the proposed amendments include a change to Article 140 to extend presidential terms from four to six years and a new clause allowing the current president to run for an additional two terms. If passed, the amendments would allow President Sisi to remain in power until 2034.

Carte blanche for the military

Yet the proposed constitutional amendments also include provisions that legalise military interventions in politics (Article 200), expand the power of military courts (Article 204) and increase the power of the executive over the judiciary (Articles 185, 190 and 193). These amendments will enshrine the militaryʹs position above the state by giving it legal means to intervene against elected governments and enhanced powers to prosecute its political opponents.

A Muslim Brotherhood member gestures from a defendantsʹ cage in a courtroom in Torah prison, southern Cairo, Egypt 22 August 2015 (photo: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Nabil)
Executions increasingly the judicial instrument of choice: hundreds of death sentences have been issued since the military coup led by Sisi in 2013. Cause for concern, however, is the surge in the number implemented in recent weeks. Fifteen people have been executed this month, amid credible allegations that the confessions that led to trial were extracted under torture – a situation that looks unlikely to improve

The amendment to Article 200, which covers the constitutional role of the military, adds "protection of the constitution, democracy, the state and its secular nature, and personal freedoms" to the militaryʹs duties. This gives the military a constitutional right to carry out a coup and impose direct military rule, especially if an Islamist electoral victory threatens the "secular" nature of the state. The amendment effectively allows the military to abrogate electoral results at will under the pretext of protecting the constitution, democracy, or the state.

Similarly, the amendment to Article 204 removes the word "direct" from the phrase "direct attack" when describing which crimes against the military fall under the jurisdiction of its courts. This increases the power of the military to prosecute civilians. Finally, the amendment to Article 234 makes the appointment of the Minister of Defence dependent on the approval of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), where the current text stipulates that this approval is only required for the first two presidential terms after the constitution is ratified. This ensures that the military remains an independent actor with control over its own affairs and no civilian oversight.

Independent judiciary severely compromised

In addition to these proposals to expand the militaryʹs powers, a set of amendments to Articles 185, 193 and 190 strongly curtail the independence of the judiciary. Together, they wipe out any legal avenues to challenge the regime in court by ensuring that only vetted candidates head the various judicial institutions, eliminating their budgetary independence and curtailing the jurisdiction of the State Council.

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