But the provisions would further entrench and expand the military’s already considerable authority. With its troops on the streets and a military-appointed government in power — after a July coup that ousted President Mohamed Morsi, who is set to go on trial Monday — the army is the country’s dominant political actor.
“This is not a moment where there is any likelihood of limiting the military’s privileges” in the constitution, said Heba Morayef, Egypt director for the New York-based Human Rights Watch. “They see the civilian justice system as an infringement. And one of the privileges the military has clung to very consistently is the broad discretion to punish and try people as they choose. They really care about maintaining that.”
Now, the army can indict anyone for any crime in which an officer is involved, sending defendants to secret trials that lack the basic tenets of due process. Military judges regularly mete out harsh punishments that cannot be appealed and bar detainees from access to legal counsel.
The 2012 constitution, drafted under the Brotherhood-backed Morsi, also gave the military wide discretion to indict civilians for vaguely defined “crimes that harm the armed forces.” And in the period following the 2011 uprising against former strongman Hosni Mubarak — which many protesters thought would usher in a new era of democratic rule — the country’s interim military council put some 12,000 civilians on trial in special army courts.
But rights advocates had hoped they could use Morsi’s ouster, facilitated by mammoth grass-roots protests, to overturn or at least restrict the military’s power to prosecute.
“We wanted the committee to support a complete ban on the use of military trials for civilians, even in cases where one of the parties is a military officer,” said Mona Seif, co-founder of the No Military Trials advocacy group, established in 2011.
But Seif said the pro-army political climate and recent violence — in which at least 1,000 people have died and militants stage regular bomb attacks — have created broad support for the military’s requests for harsh security measures.
Seif was called on to brief the committee but said she was later sidelined in the panel’s closed-door discussions with the military.
Seif and Morayef said the generals are insisting on an article with similar wording to the 2012 constitution that would give the military wide-ranging authority.