To shield Sisi, Egypt parliament approves law restricting military from running for office

The amendments require current and former officers to seek the approval of top military council before running for election

Egypt’s parliament has approved amendments to a law that would restrict current and former members of the armed forces from running for office without consent from top army leaders.

The law comes one year after the passing of constitutional amendments that allowAbdel Fattah el-Sisi, a former army general, to stay in office until 2030.

The new amendments to law no. 232 from 1959 will require all current and former officers from all ranks to seek the approval of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) before running for local, parliamentary or presidential elections. 

Egypt is due to hold elections for a new second parliamentary chamber on 11-12 August, and the House of Representative elections are scheduled for November.

The new amendments could be an attempt to prevent the rise of future rivals of Sisi from within the army.

Sisi came to power after ousting his democratically-elected civilian predecessor Mohamed Morsi in a military coup, which he led while serving as minister of defence.

He became president in 2014 after highly contested elections in which most of the other candidates were arrested or excluded.

Sisi ‘shielding himself’

Since his election, Sisi has embarked on a continuous purge of the army, retiring or arresting officers who were not perceived as allies.

One of them was Lieutenant General Sami Anan, who was arrested after deciding to run against him during the presidential election in early 2018.

Anan was arrested on the grounds that he violated the law that required him to seek SCAF permission before running.

Anan was released two years later, but remains under house arrest, according to Egyptian sources who spoke to Middle East Eye on condition of anonymity. 

A military court also jailed a former soldier in December 2017 for six years for announcing his decision to enter the presidential race as a potential candidate in a video he posted on YouTube.

The new amendments also prohibit officers from publicly divulging information about the army during their service or joining political parties without the permission of SCAF.

The new amendments will be the first attempt to enshrine such bans on members of the armed forces in Egypt’s civil law. Other bans in place were stipulated in military bylaws, said Mahmoud Gamal, a military analyst.

“Sami Anan’s defence had argued that the law banning him from running was not a civil law, now Sisi is attempting to correct the legal loopholes that were used to justify his running for office,” he told MEE.

Gamal added that the new amendments, unlike the ones passed in 2018, are designed to include officers from all ranks, as well as those who left the army.

“Sisi is shielding himself against all potential future rivals,” he said.

Changes to bolster Sisi’s influence in parliament

Egypt’s parliament approved on 17 June 2020 amendments that will give Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and his supporters greater influence over the chamber in elections expected later this year.

The approved amendments mean that 50 percent, up from 20 percent, of those elected to the 596-member House of Representatives will now be chosen through a closed list of political parties, with the rest elected as individual candidates.

All parties on the closed list are part of a pro-Sisi coalition, and the president’s right to appoint up to 28 members of parliament remains unchanged under the new changes.

The Egyptian parliament also approved an amendment for electing a second chamber, or Senate, established through constitutional amendments last year.

The Senate chamber will serve as a 300-seat advisory body, of which 100 members will be elected through a closed-list system and another 100 will be elected as individuals. The remaining 100 seats will be appointed by Sisi.

The members of parliament who introduced the changes said they would help achieve greater representation by giving 25 percent of seats to women and grant more representation to other groups, including Coptic Christians, farmers and people with disabilities.

Unfair representation

Still, critics in Egypt’s parliament, including a small opposition bloc, say the closed-list system works against fair representation.

“We believe that doing elections with the absolute closed-list system is rigging the will of the people,” Haitham al-Hariri, a member of the opposition bloc, told Reuters.

While no dates have been set for elections to the two chambers, parliament’s current five-year mandate expires in January 2021.

Last year, constitutional amendments allowing Sisi to stay in office till 2030, expanding his power over the judiciary and bolstering the military’s role were approved by referendum.

Supporters said Sisi had stabilized Egypt and needed more time to complete economic reforms. Critics feared a further narrowing of the space for dissent and opposition after a wide-ranging crackdown.

Egypt has also been under a perpetual state of emergency for almost four decades, with a brief interval in 2012.

Sisi extended the state of emergency on 28 April for another three months, marking the 12th time it has been renewed since April 2017.