Egyptian Parliament extends military's power in provinces

Constitutional amendment empowers defence minister to name military advisers and aides in each region

Egyptian MPs voted to amend a 1968 law governing the formation of 'popular forces' to aid the military at times of war. EPA
Egyptian MPs voted to amend a 1968 law governing the formation of 'popular forces' to aid the military at times of war. EPA

Egypt’s Parliament on Monday voted to extend the military’s influence in the provinces, further cementing the armed forces’ status as the chief source of power.

Constitutional amendments adopted last year enshrined the military as the guarantor of Egypt’s constitution and democracy, effectively giving it final say on policies and the political system.

On Monday, legislators voted to amend a 1968 law governing the formation of “popular forces” to aid the military at times of war.

A new clause empowers the Defence Minister, Mohamed Zaki, to name a military adviser and appoint a “sufficient” number of aides to each of Egypt’s 27 provinces.

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi is a career army officer, continuing the hold by the military on the country's highest post since young officers seized power, toppling the monarchy in the early 1950s. He won the presidency in a landslide election in 2014.

As defence minister, Mr El Sisi in 2013 led the military’s removal of president Mohammed Morsi, a member of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Morsi's one year in power proved divisive and sparked mass protests.

Last year, the constitution was amended to allow Mr El Sisi to remain in power until 2030 if he chooses to seek re-election at the end of his six-year term in 2024.

The military, by far Egypt’s most powerful institution, has assumed a commanding role in a wide range of fields since Mr El Sisi took office.

It has significantly built on the economic influence it assumed in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

With direct supervision from Mr El Sisi, the military now oversees mega projects including the construction of a new capital, a nationwide network of roads and about a dozen new cities.

It has also made large strides in industry, retail, food production and imports.

On Monday, the 596-seat chamber, packed with Mr El Sisi’s supporters, added one more layer to the vast power already wielded by the military.

Legislators celebrated the vote, lavishing praise on the army as the nation’s saviour, protector and main force behind development.

Under the new powers, advisers appointed by Mr Zaki will be charged with following up on services provided to residents and the progress of development projects.

Reporting to the defence minister, they will work to “avoid any grave danger that may undermine the safety and the security of the state”, the amendment's text read.

They and their aides will also co-ordinate with provincial authorities to take “necessary measures” to meet the nation’s economic, social and cultural development goals.

The amendment does not make clear how the advisers, giving their vast authority, would operate alongside provincial governors, many of whom are retired army officers.

The new mandate adds to the core task of the armed forces, whose men are fighting militants in the northern region of the Sinai Peninsula and protecting the porous desert border with Libya, home to militias backing rival administrations in the west and east of the vast energy-rich nation.

Mr El Sisi recently said Egypt was prepared to directly intervene in Libya to protect its national security.

Updated: July 7, 2020 08:49 AM

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