Geopolitics

In Egypt, A Push To Give The Military Even More Domestic Muscle

Proposed changes to the Constitution could reshape the role of the Armed Forces, even giving them authority to annul unfavorable election results, experts warn.

President al-Sisi honoring fallen soldiers in Cairo last April
President al-Sisi honoring fallen soldiers in Cairo last April
Randa Mostafa

CAIRO — Egypt has had nine constitutions* since its first, in 1882. And in all of them, the military's role was limited to a single task: protecting the country and preserving its security and territorial integrity. But a proposed constitutional amendment — one of several put forward by parliamentarians in February — could soon change that.

The proposal calls for granting the Armed Forces the additional responsibilities of "preserving democracy and the Constitution, protecting the basic principles of the state and its civilian nature, and protecting people's rights and individual freedoms."

The amendment's broad and vague wording raises questions about what impact it could have on the future role of the military in Egypt. Military officials, judges, historians and researchers who spoke to Mada Masr offered different interpretations about the proposal's significance and ramifications, from establishing the military as the highest authority in the state and effectively granting it unchecked governing authority to a mere official recognition of the de facto status quo.

Mostafa Kamel al-Sayed, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, says the vague language of the amendment opens the door to endless interference in politics by the military. The use of terms such as "preserving democracy" and "people's rights' was intentional, Sayed says, to allow the military to intervene in political affairs at any time.

Sayed also says that expanding the military's role to protect the country's "civilian" nature grants it a wide berth to interpret and determine what exactly constitutes a threat. This might allow the military to cancel election results if, for example, an Islamist party wins a plurality in Parliament or a presidential candidate with Islamist sympathies is elected to office.

Amr Abdel Rahman, director of the civil liberties unit at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, says that granting the military unspecified powers over democracy, the Constitution, the civilian nature of the state and individual rights and freedoms may lead the Armed Forces to become the final arbiter of the Constitution, a prospect he describes as "frightening." The role of safeguarding the Constitution should be the responsibility of the people and all state bodies, not a single authority, he adds.


Although the current Constitution already has articles that grant undemocratic powers to the National Defense Council and military courts, Abdel Rahman explains that the proposed changes go explicitly further.

helicopters_egypt_cairo_military

Egyptian helicopters after unloading military troops.—Photo: Cherie A. Thurlby.

Meanwhile, a deputy chief justice in the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, points out that the SCC protects the Constitution from any violations of its articles. But it can only play this role, he explains, when it is presented with legal disputes over laws that might be deemed unconstitutional.

The source stresses that expanding the military's mandate to include safeguarding the Constitution raises questions about what such phrasing means, how it will be interpreted, and what role the military will subsequently assume. He says he hopes the changes will not grant the military monopoly power over interpreting the Constitution, a situation that would dangerously compromise the separation of powers and leave the Constitution subject to the whims of top military generals.

The deputy chief justice also says that, during the drafting of the 2014 Constitution, a proposal was submitted to the committee of 10 legal experts that would have granted the SCC the ultimate authority to interpret the Constitution, as is the case in many foreign countries. The committee chose to reject the proposal, stressing that the Constitution has to be drafted in a way that is accessible to all people.

The amendments also enshrine veto power for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) over the choice of defense minister, a role that had been set to expire with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's second term in 2022. The new changes remove any time limit on the need seek SCAF's approval for the appointment.


In response to the fears surrounding the military's new constitutional powers, Major General Ahmed al-Awadi, the deputy head of Parliament's Defense and National Security Committee, says that the amendments do not introduce anything new to what the military has been doing on the ground since July 3, 2013, when Sisi ousted then-President Mohamed Morsi from power. He adds that the new provisions to the military's mandate will not have any consequences under normal circumstances.

But in the event of any danger to the civilian nature of the state or the democratic system, he specifies, the Armed Forces will have the right to immediately intervene at the discretion of their commander-in-chief, the minister of defense — without having to wait for a decision by the president.

Awadi, who is also deputy chairperson of the Support Egypt bloc that introduced the amendments to Parliament, did not specify the coalition's intention behind drafting the new military-related amendments, nor the "dangers' that he suggested the Armed Forces would keep at bay using their new mandate.

Major General Yehia al-Kedwani, another member of the Defense and National Security Committee, says that the current political moment requires that all powers be handed over to the Armed Forces because they are the only entity capable of preserving the highest interests of the state in the face of anyone who attempts to infringe upon its national security or its civilian nature.

Fortifying the military's role in preventing the return of a religious state

Sherif Younis, professor of history at Helwan University, says the amendments related to the military are the "focal point." And he characterizes them as more important than the changes to extend Sisi's time in office. In a published analysis of the amendments, Younis claims that the military's expanded authority would grant it a "constitutionally legitimized power to safeguard the mandate of 2013."

In his second speech after announcing the overthrow of Morsi, Sisi called on citizens to take to the streets on July 26, 2013, to give him a mandate to "fight terrorism." In response, thousands of people poured into Tahrir Square in Cairo and in other squares across the country.

Younis argues that the amendments are aimed at preventing any "relapse to the past" and deterring any threats to the state by "institutionalizing" the legitimacy of the mandate. This is done by constitutionally fortifying the military's role in preventing the return of a religious state, he says.

Sayed, the AUC professor, drew parallels between granting the military these vague powers and the Turkish precedent, whereby the Armed Forces of Turkey were committed to defending the "Ataturkian heritage" referring to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk that espoused a very narrow interpretation of secularism and resulted in a series of coups of elected governments formed by Islamic parties. The broad interpretations of the "protection of secularism" gave the Turkish military huge leeway to continuously interfere in political life under the pretext of fighting terrorism in the 1970s.

Sayed says that this model served as an inspiration for those who drafted Egypt's constitutional amendments, even though Turkey later backed away from this policy due to its desire to join the EU, which forced Turkey to take this power away from the Armed Forces in order to meet the necessary conditions to have a democratic political system.

Sherif Younis also reiterated this point, explaining that the amendments concerning military powers strongly resonate with Turkey's 1921 Constitution, which granted the Turkish military the power to quash all attempts to restore the caliphate for decades.

* Since 1882, Egypt has had nine constitutions (1882, 1923, 1956, 1958, 1964, 1971, 2012, and 2014). With the exception of the 1882 and 1923 constitutions, which were written during the time of the monarchy, all the constitutions included an article for the Armed Forces stipulating that they only have one task: protecting the country and preserving its security and territorial integrity. The 1964 Constitution added another task: protecting the gains of the popular socialist struggle, which was removed when the Constitution was amended in 2007 under former President Hosni Mubarak.

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire


According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA

Unsplash/@nemo23


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council


Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire


The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

Unsplash/@hkblind


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke


During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press


Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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