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HRW: Egypt military power expansion threatens human rights

Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Thursday expressed concern [press release] about recent actions taken by the Egyptian military to expand their power, saying the military's expansive power and lack of oversight puts citizens at risk. The rights group said recent decrees of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) [NYT backgrounder] and other military-controlled bodies have effectively given the military more power than it had under former president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile; JURIST news archive]. In the past month, the military has reinstated broad emergency powers and amended the interim constitution [JURIST reports], granting itself expanded law-enforcement powers as well as legislative authority. Additionally, the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt dissolved the Egyptian Parliament [JURIST report] last week after finding that one-third of its members were elected illegally. These combined actions, HRW contends, threaten the "meaningful" transfer of power from the military to the lawfully elected president:

The generals' relentless expansion of their authority to detain and try civilians now goes far beyond their powers under Hosni Mubarak. These decrees are the latest indication yet that there won't be a meaningful handover to civilian rule on June 30. Increasing military authority over law enforcement will invite continued abuses from an unaccountable military, Human Rights Watch said. Abuses by the military over the past year-and-a-half, including torture of protesters in detention and excessive use of lethal force in dispersing protests, have gone unpunished because civilian prosecutors do not have jurisdiction to investigate complaints against military personnel.
Among the amendments to the interim constitution, SCAF said they would transfer executive power to the newly elected president by the end of June, but the simultaneous expansion of SCAF's power has cast doubt on the sincerity of this promise. On Tuesday Egyptian politician Khaled Ali filed suit [JURIST report] challenging the constitutional amendments, saying the interim constitution gives SCAF unlimited powers. The interim constitution will remain in place in Egypt until the constitutional council drafts a new, permanent constitution.

Although the recent elections in Egypt went smoothly, the Election Commission has not yet announced a winner [AP report], and both sides are claiming victory. The constitutional council was finally elected [JURIST report] last week by the now-dissolved parliament, after political and legal controversy threatened to halt the drafting of a new constitution. Egyptian lawmakers reached an agreement [JURIST report] on the composition of the constitutional council earlier this month. The composition of the constitutional panel has been intensely debated, and the domination of the proceedings by Islamists [JURIST reports] has been extremely controversial. The debate surrounding the composition of constitutional panel follows an Egyptian court ruling in February that the elaborate voting system in the parliamentary elections was unconstitutional [JURIST report].

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