Egypt’s Sisi expands military power in new decree


Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi (C) gives a speech during the press release following the meeting of the National Defense Council after the Sinai attacks. (Photo: Anadolu – Presidency of Egypt / Pool)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Monday enacted a decree allowing military trials for civilians suspected of attacking “state infrastructure,” after a string of deadly attacks on soldiers.

The decree came after Sisi promised a tough response to what he called an “existential threat” to Egypt posed by militants, following an attack Friday on an army checkpoint in the Sinai that killed at least 30 soldiers.

It places state infrastructure including electricity towers, major thoroughfares and bridges under military protection for two years, allowing the army to try anyone suspected of attacking the public facilities.

“Crimes against public institutions, facilities and properties fall under the jurisdiction of the military judiciary,” the decree states.

Egypt has witnessed a surge in militant attacks since the army, then led by Sisi, ousted Islamist president Mohammed Mursi from power in July 2013.

Mursi’s ouster also unleashed a deadly police crackdown on his supporters that has left hundreds dead and thousands in jail.

The government has also cracked down on protests, passing a law that banned all but police-sanctioned demonstrations.

The military was already empowered with trying civilians for attacks on the army, but Sisi’s decree considerably expands its powers by defining state infrastructure as “military facilities.”

Sisi’s spokesman, Alaa Youssef, told AFP the decree was not meant to target protests but would deal only with “terrorism.”

“There is a big difference between attacking public installations and protesting,” he said. “They are two different things.”

The law, he said, was aimed at “protecting public installations and utilities from terrorist attacks.”

Youssef added that Sisi had issued the decree after consulting with Egypt’s National Defense Council, which is also headed by the president, and getting approval from the cabinet and State Council.

Egypt orders activist Abdel Fattah back to jail: family

An Egyptian court ordered prominent activist Alaa Abdel Fattah back to jail Monday after he was previously freed on bail during a trial for taking part in an illegal protest, a relative said.

His sister Mona Seif told AFP Abdel Fattah had been taken into custody after a hearing into his case on charges of participating in a violent and illegal protest following the military’s overthrow of Mursi last year.

Abdel Fattah, 32, was one of the youth activists who spearheaded an uprising against ex-President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and later backed the overthrow of the divisive Mursi.

He and his 24 co-defendants were released on bail in September after the first judge in the trial recused himself. A previous court had sentenced him to 15 years but the verdict was thrown out on appeal.

Hailed as an “icon of the revolution” by the authorities after Mursi’s overthrow, Abdel Fattah and other secular leaning dissident leaders have not been spared an extensive crackdown aimed mainly at Mursi’s Islamist backers.

He was arrested after a protest in November outside parliament against the law restricting demonstrations.

That crackdown has left at least 1,400 people dead and thousands in prison, most of them Islamists.

Another of Abdel Fattah’s sisters, Sanaa Seif, was sentenced on Sunday to three years in prison by a separate court on similar charges, along with 22 other defendants.

They had both participated in two protests against a law, enacted after Mursi’s overthrow, banning all but police-sanctioned protests.

“All the country’s youths are targeted,” their mother Leila Soueif charged after Monday’s court hearing.

New York-based Human Rights Watch denounced Sanaa Seif’s imprisonment in a statement saying the Egyptian “government will clearly go to any length to crush domestic opposition, whether secular or Islamist.”

Similarly, on Sunday, an Egyptian court sentenced 23 pro-democracy activists to three years in prison each for holding an unlicensed protest on June 21 calling for the release of detainees and the annulment of the “all but police-sanctioned demonstrations” law.

“The ruling is political, it has no legal grounding,” alleged Ahmed Ezzat, one of the defense lawyers, after judge Abdelrahman al-Zawary pronounced his verdict.

Last month, Egyptian courts sentenced nearly 100 people to prison for up to 25 years after finding them guilty of violence during protests in support of Mursi.

Hundreds of Mursi supporters have been handed lengthy jail terms and death sentences after speedy trials amid a brutal crackdown by the authorities since the Islamist’s overthrow in July last year.

The crackdown has left at least 1,400 people dead, triggering an international outcry.

Ending martial law throughout the country, which gives the authorities wide-ranging policing powers, was one of the demands of the popular uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and paved the way for Islamist Mursi’s election a year later.

The approved measure on military courts threatens to revive some of its most repressive aspects and could be used alongside a strict new law curbing protests. Liberal and secular activists have been targeted by that statute alongside thousands of Brotherhood supporters rounded up in Sisi’s crackdown.

Sisi’s critics are likely to see such a step as the latest move to clamp down on dissent by a government that has jailed thousands of political opponents and banned the Muslim Brotherhood, which denies involvement in militant violence.

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