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Egypt: Bill to Provide Judicial Immunity to Military Commanders

(July 23, 2018) On July 3, 2018, the Egyptian Parliament approved a bill granting judicial immunity to officers of the highest rank in the Egyptian armed forces for military acts committed during the two-and-a-half-year period beginning with the military coup of July 2013. The bill, which will now be sent to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for his signature, allows the president to select which officers receive such judicial immunity. (Council of Representatives Approves a Law Honoring High-Ranking Officers of the Armed Forces, AL-YOUM AL-SAABE‘ (July 3, 2018) (in Arabic).)

Of the bill’s six articles, article 1 grants the president the right to recall retired high-ranking officers to reserve status for life in the armed forces (Mohammad Abd al-Qadir & Mahmoud Javish, Text of Law to Honor Some of the Military Commanders: “Judicial Immunity, Diplomatic Treatment and Ministers’ Privileges,” AL-MASRY AL-YOUM (July 3, 2018) (in Arabic)), which Egyptian research analyst Mahmoud Gamal has said means that they will not be able to run for president or pose any political threat to Sisi (Egypt Immunity Law Protects Army Officers from ‘Serious Crimes’: HRW, MIDDLE EAST EYE (July 9, 2018)). Article 3 authorizes the president to determine the types of privileges granted to high-ranking military officers. (Abd al-Qadir & Javish, supra.) Under article 5, high-ranking military officers are granted judicial immunity for acts they committed from the time the Constitution was suspended on July 3, 2013, to the reconvening of Parliament in January 2016. (Egypt Immunity Law Protects Army Officers, supra.) In addition, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), which includes the military officers that would likely be granted immunity, must authorize any judicial prosecution of those officers. (Id.) Finally, article 6 provides that high-ranking military officers will have diplomatic immunity, ensured by the Foreign Ministry, when they travel abroad. (Abd al-Qadir & Javish, supra.) According to Gamal,

Sisi wants to reassure top brass officers that none of them will face prosecution for post-coup crimes, whether in Egypt or abroad . . . [and] send them a message that none of them will be threatened, except with the permission of the SCAF which he himself appointed. This is a classic carrot-and-stick policy to reward his allies and at the same time warn them that he still has the power to prosecute them. (Egypt Immunity Law Protects Army Officers, supra.)

According to a report issued by the Defense and National Security Committee at the Parliament, the bill is intended to honor some of the highest-ranking military officers who served during the events that took place in July and August 2013, but the bill itself does not include a definition of the term “high-ranking military officers.” That, according to member of Parliament Yehia al-Kedwany, is left up to the president. (Rania Al-Abd, Military Top Brass Get Impunity for Acts Committed During Transitional Period, MADA MASR (July 4, 2018).)

In reaction to the new bill, Human Rights Watch (HRW) dismissed it and called it “unconstitutional,” with HRW Middle East and North Africa researcher Amr Magdy saying that “the bill shows that those army officers . . . know that they have been involved in serious crimes and they fear accountability.” (Egypt Immunity Law Protects Army Officers, supra.)