With President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in power, Egypt is currently in the throes of a near-complete reversal of democracy. Under his rule the military has intruded into almost all aspects of public life, in a very explicit attempt to instill fear in Egyptians.
One of the most pervasive examples of this has been the military’s disruption of judicial process, with interference turning to encroachment as more and more civilians continue to be tried and sentenced by the army, through various nefarious means of expanded military jurisdiction.
While a military judiciary has been present in Egypt since the 1960s, their power continued to grow after then Defence Minister Sisi overthrew the democratically elected President, Mohammed Morsi in a coup and became Egypt’s new leader. Since then he has worked towards removing tenure limits to his term, virtually guaranteeing him power for another decade or more.
The Egyptian government, like many others across the globe, has used the pandemic and the limited mobility of citizens due to it to tighten their chokehold on dissent and opposition. In April 2020, the Egyptian Parliament passed amendments to its Emergency Law. The law already prohibited demonstrations and protests, and now allows the military to arrest and confiscate assets of citizens without requiring permission from the special prosecutor, and investigate civilians without the right to appear before a judge.
Egypt has seen more time under Emergency Law than not in the past few decades, and President Sisi has not strayed from this pattern. The law has been used in many ways to normalize the military trespassing into the civil judicial system, such as having military judges on civil judicial councils and declaring the military judiciary as “an independent judicial entity” no longer under the command of the armed forces.
Public facilities have been placed under military jurisdiction, in conjunction with a law that allows anyone who directly or indirectly “assaults” an army base to be tried in a military court. In these courts defendants do not have common legal rights such as being informed of their charges, access to a lawyer or being brought before a judge soon after arrest.
Additionally, there have been multiple reports of torture, sexual assault while placed in detention. In prison too, detainees face inhumane conditions, not being allowed to see family, exercise or get sunshine and fresh air. Thousands of student protestors, journalists and political dissidents have been tried in these military courts, and hundreds more have been killed extrajudicially. At the same time, citizens’ tools to criticise these steps are undermined, such as by limiting the domain of NGOs, censoring news and social media, and blocking around 600 websites.
The arrest, incarnation and trial of the deposed President, Mohammed Morsi is a glaring example of what is wrong with Egypt’s military trials. Morsi, who was in jail for over 6 years since the coup in 2013 and was under trial in military court collapsed and died during a hearing in the military court itself.
The constitution, the parliament, the law, and the abuse of these pillars of democracy has been instrumental in Sisi being able to give the military and himself the extreme power that they now possess. But despite restrictions on assembling and protesting, Egyptians continue to make their voices heard in the streets and worldwide, hoping that where institutions betray them, their community won’t. Hoping against hope, hoping against tyranny.