Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch
Middle East and North Africa Director
HRW's press release elaborates:
The new decree, Law 136 of 2014 for the Securing and Protection of Public and Vital Facilities, states that the armed forces “shall offer assistance to the police and fully coordinate with them in securing and protecting public and vital facilities,” including electricity stations, gas pipelines, oil wells, railroads, road networks, bridges, and any similar state-owned property.
Military judges have presided over trials of civilians in Egypt for decades, despite efforts by activists and some politicians to eliminate the practice. In the months following the 2011 uprising, for example, Egypt’s military courts tried almost 12,000 civilians on an array of regular criminal charges. But the new law greatly expands the jurisdiction of military courts, giving them their widest legal authority since the birth of Egypt’s modern republic in 1952. Before al-Sisi’s decree, Egypt’s constitution and code of military justice theoretically limited military prosecutions to cases that directly involved the armed forces or their property, though the country’s 31-year state of emergency, which expired in 2012, allowed the president to refer civilians to military courts.
Egypt’s military appears intent on interpreting the new law broadly. Interviewed on the CBC television channel on November 1, General Medhat Ghozy, who heads the Military Judiciary Authority, said that military jurisdiction now extends over any building or property that provides a “general service” or is state owned.
“If there’s a public facility, or a vital one, when it’s assaulted, who’s the attacker?” Ghozy said. “[It doesn’t matter] if it’s a woman, or a man, or a teacher, or a student, or a teenager, or a child … the law is a general, abstract rule. We can’t say now: these are universities, these are factories, these are electricity stations.”