Egypt: Sisi’s power reinforced after passing of new law
The Egyptian Parliament passed a law on 6 July requiring military personnel who wish to run for presidential, legislative or local elections to seek the endorsement of the powerful military council headed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Additionally, the state of emergency law was ratified at the end of April, extending the powers of Sisi; a measure taken in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and denounced by NGOs.
Having controlled civil opposition, the Sisi regime now wants to ensure that there will be no political competition emerging on the armed side. This new legislation limits the possibility of a candidate from the military running against President Sisi, who himself, was a former marshall elected in 2014 and re-elected in 2018.
Until Monday, members of the army were allowed to pursue a political career, on the sole condition that they gave up their profession or had already retired. Serving members of the armed forces were officially obliged to perform reserve duty and were prohibited from engaging in any political activity.
Following the new law, candidates can run for election but must first obtain “the approval of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF),” wrote the National Media Commission, an official institution, on its website.
SCAF and the military
The SCAF, a powerful entity at the top of the army, has been headed by Sisi since 2014.
Since its independence from the British in 1952, Egypt has effectively been under military rule, apart from a brief hiccup in time when Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, a candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood and the only civilian Egyptian head of state, was democratically elected before being deposed in a coup led by Sisi.
The army, portrayed as the protector of the people, is omnipresent in society and its role in the Egyptian economy has risen in recent years.
In April 2019, a constitutional amendment allowing Sisi to run for a third term and strengthening his powers was approved by a referendum.
In the 2018 presidential election, Sisi’s most serious opponents were either arrested or discouraged from running. In particular, the former Chief of Staff Sami Anan was arrested after announcing his candidacy. He was released in late 2019 after more than a year and a half in detention.
State of emergency since 1981
Emergency legislation significantly expands police powers of arrest, surveillance and travel and curtails constitutional rights such as freedom of expression. The law was implemented in 1981, after the assassination of former President Anwar Sadat.
Following the 2011 revolution, the state of emergency ended in 2012.
But since April 2017, the country has been under a renewed state of emergency following an attack claimed by a jihadist group affiliated to the Islamic state (IS).
And as recently as 2 July, amendments to the state of emergency were announced. Published on the official gazette, it allows the president to order the closure of schools, suspend public services, ban public and private gatherings and quarantine travellers entering the country.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced in a statement the amendments, approved by Parliament at the end of April, calling them a “cover-up” for the establishment of “new repressive powers.”
“President al-Sisi’s government is using the pretext of the pandemic to extend the already abused emergency law instead of reforming it,” says Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. “The Egyptian authorities should address the real public health problems without putting in place new tools of repression.”
The amendments also allow the president to restrict trade in certain goods, requisition private medical centres and convert schools, educational centres and other public facilities into field hospitals.
The military prosecutor will also be authorised to assist the public prosecutor’s office in investigating crimes reported by the armed forces. The military is responsible for law enforcement during the state of emergency.
Stork stresses that although some of these measures are necessary during times of health crises, “they must not lead to abuse…using national security and public order as a justification reflects the security mentality that governs Sisi’s Egypt,” he added.
Arrests of frontline workers
At least ten doctors and six journalists have been arrested since the virus hit Egypt in February, says rights groups. Other health workers say they have been warned by administrators to keep quiet or face sanctions.
Indeed, health workers have sounded the alarm on social media. Doctors are being forced to buy their own protective equipment despite very precarious salaries. Pharmacists and dentists are mobilised to help, but with very little support from the government.
Added to that, several doctors and nurses have reportedly died after contracting the virus.
As of 8 July, Egypt has officially registered 77,297 infections, including 3,489 deaths and 21,718 recoveries, and the numbers continue to rise.
‘Family values’ enforced
As efforts to tighten Egyptian society continue, the government is also cracking down on what it deems as actions that incite debauchery or violate family values.
A young girl, 17 year-old Mena Abdel Aziz , made a video with her face covered telling her followers that she was raped. Such a public admission brought about her arrest for “promoting debauchery”. It was only after an intervention by the NGO EIPR (Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights), that Aziz was transferred to a centre for female victims of violence.
Other women, on popular social media platforms with over a million followers have also been arrested or reported for ‘violating family principles and values in Egyptian society’ and using these applications to commit “those crimes”.