New legislation prevents military men competing against al-Sisi

On Sunday, the legislative committee in the Egyptian House of Representatives (parliament) approved a draft law that requires former and current army officers to obtain approval from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces before becoming a candidate in political elections. Supporters of the Egyptian regime tried to promote the bill as a restriction of military intervention in political life, but opponents considered it to increase the militarisation of political life in Egypt, not reduce it.

The official Egyptian Middle East News Agency said that the National Defence and Security Committee approved a draft law submitted by the government to amend some provisions of laws regulating the affairs of the officers of the armed forces. The agency added that the amendments bill stipulates that “the officers may not be nominated, whether they are in service or those whose service has ended in the armed forces for the presidential elections or parliamentary or local councils, except after the approval of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.”

The bill basically prohibits “officers from expressing political or partisan opinions, engaging in politics, or belonging to parties, bodies, associations, or organisations with political principles or inclinations.” The draft law also prohibits officers “from participating in organising party meetings or election campaigns.” The agency said that the government submitted an explanatory note stating that “due to the technological development in the work system of the armed forces in a manner appropriate to the nature of modern warfare, it was necessary to put specific controls on the personnel of the Armed Forces, even after the end of their service.” The explanatory note justified that by saying that they “may have received information and knowledge during the military service.”

The law gave the right to the person concerned (who has been banned from political activity) to appeal the decision of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces before the Supreme Judicial Committee for Armed Forces officers. That committee is considered immune, by law, from any appeal against its decisions or demanding its cancellation in any way before any other body or entity. This means that any former military officer must obtain the approval of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or the Supreme Judicial Committee of the Armed Forces to run in any political elections. Instead of considering the bill as restricting military intervention in political life, opponents say it has increased the military’s control of ex-military personnel to ensure their loyalty even after quitting the service.

Observers consider that granting the military council approval to one of the old military leaders to run in the elections for the parliament or the presidency would be tacit support from the military council for that candidate, and would guarantee they win. The military council can also withhold its consent from any military officer who does not guarantee his absolute loyalty, thereby impeding his candidacy.

Politicians state that Egyptian General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi appeared in the media in his military uniform on March 26, 2014, when he was assuming the post of Minister of Defence at the time, announcing his candidacy for the first presidential elections after his implementation of a military coup against the first elected civilian president, Mohamed Morsi, on July 3 2013. Over the years, authorities in Egypt arrested anyone who tried to compete with al-Sisi from inside the military establishment or even from its former affiliates. Among the arrested military was Colonel Ahmed Qanswa, who announced his desire to run in the 2018 presidential elections.

The former prime minister of Egypt and a symbol of the Mubarak regime, Ahmed Shafiq, the former pilot in the armed forces, was also forced to retreat and withdraw his candidacy, amid news that he is living under house arrest. Also, former chief of staff of the Egyptian army, Sami Anan, was arrested because he did not obtain approval from the military council to end his service. During the January 25 revolution members of the Military Council had to obtain prior approval to end their military service. Al-Sisi obtained the approval to run for the presidential elections in a few hours, while the council did not grant that approval to Sami Anan, which made al-Sisi almost alone in the 2018 presidential elections, after Anan was arrested.

Observers consider that the new bill extends the military council’s control over almost all old officers instead of the military council’s members. Although the new draft law appears to be a restriction of the army’s intervention in political life, in reality, it means increasing the junta’s (the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) control of old officers and commanders, giving it greater control over the political sphere.