A government-proposed bill that bestows impunity and privileges on a select group of the highest ranking Armed Forces officers received preliminary approval in Parliament on Tuesday.
The bill, which will grant the president the power to decide which military officials are in line for these benefits, now must secure a two-thirds majority vote in the legislature’s general assembly.
The piece of legislation was submitted to the legislature on Monday morning, passing quickly through the parliamentary process. It was discussed at a joint committee meeting convened on Tuesday afternoon by the following four parliamentary committees: defense and national security, constitutional and legislative affairs, planning and budget and foreign affairs. No journalists attended this meeting. Defense and National Security Committee head Kamal Amer then proceeded to present a report on the proposed legislation to the committees’ members, after which it was put to a vote.
The bill includes six articles. Under Article 1, the president shall name a select list of officers from the Armed Forces’ top brass to receive lifelong reserve status.
Article 3 authorizes the president to determine the privileges held by these officers and allows them to retain any other privileges secured to them by force of any other laws.
Under Article 5, the officers selected by the president shall be granted impunity from judicial prosecution for any acts that they committed while serving on duty or as a result thereof during the period between the suspension of the Constitution on July 3, 2013, and the convention of the current Parliament on January 10, 2016. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is the only body that can prosecute officers for acts committed during this timeframe.
While officers are in service or on reserve status, they shall also be granted the impunity enjoyed by heads and members of diplomatic missions while they are abroad, according to the stipulations of Article 6 of the bill. The Foreign Ministry is tasked with ensuring the privileges of diplomatic immunity are granted.
The bill does not, however, define which military figures constitute “top brass Armed Forces officers,” nor is a definition offered in the report written by the Defense and National Security Committee. But MP Yehia al-Kedwany, the committee’s deputy head, tells Mada Masr that “it is up to the president to determine which ranks the term shall apply to.”
The number of decrees the president may issue to classify Armed Forces officers as “top brass” and therefore eligible for these privileges and immunity is not limited. MP Ehab al-Tamawy, the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee secretary, tells Mada Masr that it is also up to the president to decide whether to issue one or more of these decrees, and that there cannot be limits on these actions.
According to Amer’s report, the current version of the bill follows the introduction of an amendment by the joint parliamentary committee during the bill’s discussion, which extended the impunity period to January 10, 2016. The government’s draft had provided for the period to end on June 8, 2014.
In the course of the impunity period provided by the law, several events took place in Egypt, including the Republican Guards headquarters incident in July 2013 and the dispersal of the Rabea and Nahda sit-ins in August of the same year.
This bill bears resemblance to a law that was promulgated in November 2011, under which SCAF members would become reserve officers when they reach retirement age. Parliament also approved amendments in April 2012 to the Military Judiciary Law 25/1966, granting the military judiciary exclusive jurisdiction over cases involving illicit gains by Armed Forces personnel, provided that the investigation into a case was only launched after the officer had retired.
In outlining the jurisprudence of the bill, the joint committee’s report asserts that the bill is intended to “honor” some of the highest-ranking Armed Forces officers who “sacrificed their lives for the security, stability and higher interests of [our] homeland at a historic period of time.” In return, “they shall receive the reward, honor and security they deserve from Egypt.”
But another MP, who works as a lawyer and spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, asserts that the bill is unconstitutional, as Article 5 of the legislation explicitly offers judicial impunity to the officials who led the country while the Constitution was suspended.
During the bill’s discussion, MP Abdel Hamid Kamal, a member of the 25-30 Alliance parliamentary bloc, an independent coalition founded in 2014 whose name commemorates January 25 and June 30, said that the identifies a particular group of people as beneficiaries. To that, parliamentary Speaker Ali Abdel Aal responded, “The bill does not provide for any discrimination and does not contravene [the Law] or the Constitution; it addresses those who sacrificed their lives to honor them.”
General Mamdouh Shahin, the Defense Ministry’s representative at the general assembly, offered a similar justification for the bill and the privileges it provides for. “The bill is intended to honor the Armed Forces and is not meant to introduce discrimination. It follows the example of laws that were issued following the October War to honor military commanders.”
In December, the legislature approved amendments to the Armed Forces’ retirement, insurance and pensions law, raising the retirement age for officers of the lieutenant general rank from 62 to 64. At the time, MP Ahmed al-Awady, a member of the Defense and National Security Committee, told Mada Masr that the amendment would apply to Lieutenant General Mohamed Zaki, the former head of the Republican Guard, who was appointed as defense minister less than a month ago, and Lieutenant General Osama Askar, the assistant to the Armed Forces’ commander in chief responsible for Sinai development.