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Egypt: Decree Allowing Armed Forces to Assist Law Enforcement Agencies in Protecting Government and Public Facilities

(Nov. 6, 2014) On October 27, 2014, after approval by the Council of Ministers, the President of Egypt, Abdul Fatah Al SiSi, issued Presidential Decree No. 136 of 2014, on enhancing sanctions against the offense of vandalism of public and government facilities. (Presidential Decree No. 136 of 2014 [in Arabic], AL-JARIDAH AL-RASMIYAH 43 (C) bis (Oct. 27, 2014).)

Article 1 of Decree provides that members of the armed forces will coordinate and collaborate with police forces to protect vital government and public facilities. Those facilities include power networks, stations, and towers; gas and oil fields; railway lines; roads; bridges; and other public and governmental facilities. Article 2 states that violators of the security of these facilities will be tried by military tribunals. Article 3 provides that the implementation of the Decree will be carried out for two years. (Id.)

The Decree is the first legal instrument to assign members of the armed forces to share security responsibilities with the police in protecting vital government facilities. The new legal measures were formulated after the President consulted with the National Defense Council on the subject. (Presidential Decree: The Armed Forces Joining the Police in Protecting Vital and Public Facilities [in Arabic], AKBAR AL YOUM (Oct. 27, 2014).)

Representatives of civil society organizations have expressed opposition to the newly enacted Decree. The director of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, for example, considers the possible referral of civilians to military tribunals by virtue of the Decree’s article 2 to be unconstitutional. He also stated that article 2 of the Decree is in violation of article 204 of the Egyptian Constitution, which provides that “[c]ivilians cannot stand trial before military courts except for crimes that represent a direct assault against military facilities, military barracks, or whatever falls under their authority… or for crimes that represent an assault against its officers or personnel because of the performance of their duties.” (Presidential Decree to Pass Crimes on ‘Vital’ Facilities to Military Court, DAILY NEWS EGYPT (Oct. 27, 2014).)

According to news reports, human rights groups accuse the Egyptian authorities of planning to use the Decree as a legal tool to facilitate the military trials of peaceful protesters and university students. They also claim that the new presidential decree is designed to curb freedoms of speech and expression. (Patrick Kingsley, Egypt Places Civilian Infrastructure Under Army Jurisdiction, GUARDIAN (Oct. 28, 2014).)