SCAF expands its power with constitutional amendments

As vote counting got underway in the second and final round of Egypt's presidential election, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) issued amendments to the Constitutional Declaration that will limit the powers of the coming president and expand the military's role, notably giving it a heavy influence over the writing of the country's next constitution.

The amended Article 60 gives the SCAF the power to potentially appoint a Constituent Assembly to write the next constitution if the current assembly fails to complete its mandate. The current assembly was elected by a Parliament that was dissolved last week by court order. The Constituent Assembly is required to complete its work within three months and then put its draft to a popular referendum.

The seven provisions added to the declaration issued by the SCAF last March were announced on Sunday in the Official Gazette. An official told state-run MENA news agency Sunday night that SCAF will give details about the content of the document at 9:30 am on Monday.

The SCAF, the president, the prime minister, the Supreme Judicial Council, or one-fifth of the Constituent Assembly have the right to contest any clause issued by the Constituent Assembly if “it is in opposition to the goals of the revolution or its basic principles… or the common principles of Egypt’s past constitutions.”

The assembly would have to revisit the contested clause or clauses within 15 days, and if the contention holds the Supreme Constitutional Court should have the final word.

The SCAF’s new authority over the Constituent Assembly and its decisions follow a long stream of deliberations over constitution writing, whereby Islamist forces tried twice and failed to control the process by convening predominantly Islamist assemblies.

In a further empowerment of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), an amended Article 30 rules that the newly elected president shall swear in before the judicial body. The Constitutional Declaration previously said that the president would take office in front of Parliament.

Last Thursday, the SCC issued two critical rulings that dealt a blow to Islamist forces as it deemed the Parliamentary Elections Law unconstitutional, leading to the dissolution of Parliament. The same day, the court ruled the Political Isolation Law issued by Parliament unconstitutional, keeping Ahmed Shafiq in the race.

Shafiq, a former air force commander and toppled President Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister, is widely viewed as the SCAF's preferred candidate. He is competing against the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsy.  

The amended Article 56 gives the SCAF the right to assume the responsibilities of Parliament until a new one is elected. The previous interim constitution allowed the SCAF to issue and overrule legislation.

Article 53 of the amended Constitutional Declaration gives the SCAF the upper hand in running the armed forces, while the elected president can only decide to go to war after its approval. The president can also, with the approval of the SCAF, call on the armed forces to contribute to rule of law and security operations in the country alongside the police if need be.

The amendment to Article 53 retroactively provides constitutional grounds for the recent expansion of the military's power to arrest civilians. Last week, the Justice Ministry issued a decree that military police and military intelligence are allowed to arrest civilians for even minor crimes. Human rights groups had raised questions about the constitutionality of the decree.

Earlier on Sunday, Saad al-Katatny, the former speaker of the dissolved Parliament, rejected the idea of a complementary constitutional declaration and the decision to dissolve Parliament, which he deemed unconstitutional, in a meeting with military Chief of Staff Sami Anan. The Muslim Brotherhood wrote on its official Twitter account, "As far as we are concerned, the supplemental Constitutional Declaration released by the SCAF is null and unconstitutional."

Heba Morayef, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, wrote that while many expected the new constitutional amendments to spell out the powers of the president, these amendments instead expand military powers, "rendering meaningless the June 30 'handover.'"


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