CAIRO – Egypt's Islamist-dominated parliament on Sunday approved a ban onthe country's next president from sending civilians for trial bymilitary tribunals, but preserving that power for the militaryitself. The measure would curb the powers enjoyed by the deposed PresidentHosni Mubarak, who used the military tribunals to refer opponents,especially Islamists. The law retains the current wide-ranging powers for the military tosend civilians to military tribunals. Activists have beencampaigning against that practice by the ruling generals who tookover from Mubarak in February last year. |
More than 10,000 civilians have been referred to such tribunalssince then, some for criticizing the military. On Saturday alone, more than 300 civilians were sent for militaryprosecution following violent demonstrations near the DefenseMinistry in Cairo. They face accusations of attacking troops anddisrupting public order. Late Sunday, the military renewed an overnight curfew in the areaof the ministry for a third day.
Human Rights Watch researcher Heba Morayef said the new measurefails to protect civilians and civilian justice system from themilitary. "It is an attempt to limit the next president's power, but doesnothing about the relations between civilians and military," shesaid. "The newly elected civilian authority is not responding toone of the main demands on the streets to protect the rights ofcivilians." Another lawyer, Ragia Omran, who has been campaigning for endingthe military trials, said the measure was a "disappointment,"because there were consultations with lawmakers to limit themilitary's jurisdiction. "The (lawmakers) don't care about the public opinion. It is onlygood for them," she said.
The measure allows those tried under Mubarak to appeal the verdictsbefore a military tribunal. This includes some of the senior MuslimBrotherhood leaders. Brotherhood lawyer Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maksoud said the law intendsto "curb the powers of the next president" to send civilians tomilitary courts for a wide variety of offenses. The military itself still has that authority, he said, "but now thedoor is no longer open for the next president" to do so. Egyptian activists and political groups have grown critical of themilitary management of the transition period, and have sought tocurb the powers enjoyed by the military since its 1952 militarycoup.
Since then it was been the source of all of Egypt's leaders. Later this month, Egyptians vote for the first time to elect apresident without a military background. But many believe themilitary is still trying to preserve its economic interests andpolitical clout by backing a presidential candidate or introducinglegislation that protects its status. Morayef questioned the Brotherhood's concession on military trialsdespite public pressure. "The timing is interesting, when the Brotherhood is saying it is inthe middle of a battle with the military, (but) in no way are theypushing back against military authority," she said.
The original law, in place since 1966, allows the military to tryany crimes committed against military personnel, on militarygrounds or "against the security, safety or interests of the ArmedForces." The tribunals also have jurisdiction over any site operated by themilitary. Egypt's military has extensive economic interests andemploys civilians, making them liable to military jurisdiction. Rights lawyer Ahmed Ragheb said the new measure also preserves theright of the military to try its retired personnel for financialand other crimes, a measure adopted after the uprising that toppledMubarak.
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