August 26, 2019

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  • Officers weigh in on military vote

    File photo of a polling station during last year's presidential elections. The SCC's ruling that army officers must be allowed to vote has stirred controversy.

    BY MAI SHAMS EL-DIN Cairo – Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) recently opined that the military and police have a constitutional right to vote, a ruling that sparked controversy over the possible politicization of both institutions already seen as having too much influence in politics.

    The ruling came as part of the SCC’s assessment of a reviewed version of the elections law by the Shoura Council, drafted in line with Egypt’s long-running tradition that bars army and police soldiers, conscripts and members of the security from voting while in service.

    The SCC deemed this part of the law as unconstitutional based on Article 55 which stipulates that participation in public life is a “national duty” and that every citizen has the right to vote, run for public office and vote in referendums as  regulated by the law.

    The court reasoned that preventing police and army officers from voting is a flagrant violation of their citizenship rights.

    The ruling also explains that Article 55 does not restrict the right to vote, but only gives the law the power to organize this right.

    Legal experts have been comparing Article 55 to Article 62 of the 1971 constitution, which was the first step towards restricting the right to vote as it added the phrase “according to the provisions of the law” to the voting rights article.

    The court ruling further deepens the split between the Brotherhood-dominated Shoura Council and the SCC, which has deemed all laws issue by the Council to date as unconstitutional.

    The rift between the ruling Muslim Brotherhood group and the SCC began over a year ago when the latter dissolved the Brotherhood-dominated People’s Assembly in May after ruling that the elections law was unconstitutional.

    The Muslim Brotherhood, along with other Islamist political forces that dominated the panel which issued the country’s new constitution, have tirelessly attempted  to curb the powers of the SCC, apparently to no avail.

    Hassan Ibrahim, secretary general of the Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), slammed the court ruling, considering it “a direct threat to Egypt’s national security, through supporting the police and military intervention in the electoral process”.

    Ibrahim also described the SCC’s ruling as an attempt to stall elections for the House of Representatives.

    “The army’s participation in the political process will create partisan biases inside the nationalist institution, and will transmit the political turmoil into the military institution,” he added.

    Two army officers shared Ibrahim’s concerns.

    “I always felt deprived of my right to vote, but now I’m completely against it,” a mid-ranking officer in the air force told The Egypt Monocle. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.

    “Egypt is completely polarized and the army is the only institution immune from this. If we allow army members to vote, polarization will find its way within us,” he said.

    The young officer also fears that the army will bear the brunt of the failure of Egypt’s political forces.

    “The army will always be accused of being in favor of the winning political force even though the weight of our vote is insignificant. We should only be allowed to  vote after 15 years of well-established democracy run by civilians,” he said.

    He believes that the army is “bigger than one vote in the ballot box”.

    “Of course the army will play a major role in politics regardless of the voting because this is how the Egyptian state has been functioning since the Mohamed Ali era, but I think that the military needs to steer clear from the electoral process in specific,” he said.

    A second officer shares his views, adding, however, that the voting issue is not on top of the army’s agenda.

    “I don’t think that anyone in the army should be worried about this because we have other important issues to worry about,” he said. He disregarded fears of disintegration within the army ranks, emphasizing that the army will always remain united.

    Yet, a member of an unofficial police officers syndicate, Major Ashraf El-Banna begs to differ.

    “Police officers are not like the army. According to Egyptian laws, we are a civilian institution. When we violate the law, we are referred to civilian courts unlike the military. So why should we be dealt with like the military?” Banna asked.

    He believes that police officers should be granted the right to vote, adding that it will not lead to the politicization of the institution.

    “Mubarak was also blamed for militarizing the police, I think giving us the right to vote will enable the institution to demilitarize,” he added.

    “We should be treated like any civil servants in any other ministry. If they are going to strip us of our rights, they have to strip other civil servants of their rights as well,” he said.

    Banna has been working with other police officers to establish a syndicate, even though Egyptian laws prevent police officers from setting up syndicates.

    “We are deprived of our right to vote and organize, and then they blame us for being militarized. We should not be treated like the military. We are civilians and this has to be reflected in reality,” he said.


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