by Ahmad Jamaleddine, Al-Akhbar English
Fear of the growing influence of the police and the army under the presidency of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is no longer just a possibility, it is a fact that has materialized through several decisions taken by Sisi in the past six months. As popular support for the civilian opposition forces has disappeared, the contours of a “police state” are emerging once again.
Cairo – From the moment Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi resigned from his post as defense minister, it was clear that the man who spent his adult life in the military was not going to be a truly civilian president. To substantiate this claim, one can simply look at the series of decisions he took in the six months he’s been president. Besides, the civilian forces that opposed Sisi, such as al-Tayyar al-Shaabi (the Popular Current) and al-Dustour Party (the Constitution Party), have no real popular support. This means the political scene is devoid of effective civilian opposition. Enforcing the anti-protest law however – which the Ministry of Interior uses to crack down on opposition demonstrations while protecting demonstrations in support of the current president and the ousted one (Hosni Mubarak) – might not be the only reason for the absence of civilian forces.
There are a number of measures that Sisi took as soon as he was sworn in, some of them were in reaction to incidents witnessed on the streets while others came as a surprise. Either way, laws were passed without a supervisory authority in the absence of the parliament which has been dissolved and with the government’s unquestioning support for the president’s decisions.
Sisi has granted military servicemen, whether retired or serving, special privileges such as increasing their salaries and pensions by 10 percent, increasing the number of students admitted to military colleges by 15 percent more than in previous years and accepting a greater number of recruits to perform their military service. In addition, large tracts of land have been allocated by direct orders to the armed forces to build social projects for officers and soldiers’ families.
Sisi also brought the Egyptian Army Corps of Engineers, in charge of project execution, into government agencies making it a partner in all the projects that he initiated since coming to power. The Suez Project overseen by the army and the Million Units Project for low-income families which will begin next year are projects that the army previously had nothing to do with. The obvious reason behind these decisions is Sisi’s wish to ensure speedy execution and quality control while suggesting that he will be the military’s favorite man. He even involved the army in the national roads project which connects Egyptian provinces and whose implementation has in fact begun.
The most serious decree however, which was issued last October, places public and vital facilities under military jurisdiction and refers any crimes committed at those places to military prosecutors and courts. This decree triggered a legal debate about expanding the jurisdiction of military courts versus limiting the jurisdiction of the public prosecution and civilian courts even though both sides are working against protesters. The law, which will be in effect for two years, passed with no official objection by any judge. Some civilian forces which initially voiced objections soon ignored the law as they became preoccupied with preparing for the parliamentary elections.
The average citizen did not feel the effect of this law, not because there are no protests against the regime – except by the banned Muslim Brotherhood – but because the army tasked by the law with securing the facilities has disappeared for no obvious reason, except when the Muslim Brotherhood organizes a protest. But this scene is not expected to last for long, especially as voices have risen calling for widespread protests against the Sisi regime on January 25, the third anniversary of the revolution that toppled the Mubarak regime. Under this law, tanks will be on the streets to secure these facilities and officers will have the right to arrest civilians at any time or place and refer them to military courts known for their harsh sentences and swift rulings while compromising the right of the accused to defend themselves.
Not just the army, but the Ministry of Interior is also a beneficiary of Sisi’s decisions. The army provided its personnel with sophisticated weapons and armored vehicles to transport and protect them, especially in Sinai. As with the armed forces, an increase in the number of security personnel was approved by increasing the number of students admitted to the police academy by 30 percent. In addition, a law that will be effective immediately was issued creating the rank of police assistant which permits holders of intermediate education certificates to join the police force after receiving the necessary training and enables them to make arrests.
Sustaining hope in a civilian Egypt, some forces are counting on the next parliament to amend these laws. But the reality suggests otherwise and not only because the forces supporting Sisi will control most of the seats in the parliament and form the government by virtue of the gerrymandering going on in the process of dividing electoral districts in favor of certain political parties and movements. The problem is that Article 156 of the 2014 constitution which was passed earlier in the year requires “the parliament to review, discuss and approve all pieces of legislation that were passed during the transitional period in 15 days only.” Practically speaking, two weeks for review will not be sufficient in the absence of internal regulations in the parliament, given the large number of laws that have been passed.
The same constitutional article requires recognition of all the laws and their effects if they are not amended during that period. This means decisions issued in favor of the military and the police will pass with barely any changes, except perhaps the anti-protest law because some voices, albeit few in number, continue to call for its repeal.
Herein lies the most serious question: Will the parliament sign on to the militarization of the state as well?