Egypt’s Defence Minister has said that the military should enjoy immunity under the new constitution, according to two leaked audio tapes broadcast on Friday by Egyptiab media Network Rasd.
General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi made the comments in an interview that was recorded a few weeks ago, but was never made public.
“You need this military institution to be given immunity, it is not an immunity for Abdel Fatah [referring to himself] …. It is for the [military] institution, which is the backbone of the state in light of the current circumstances. The constitution should consider that during this transitional period,” Sisi said in the audio that is now in the possession of Al Jazeera.
The military deposed the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president, on July 3 and suspended the constitution.
In the second audio, Sisi is heard saying, ”The [military] institution should have immunity because it has a role… that will be extended for at least 15 years during the coming period, be not withstanding who is going to be in power, whether he belongs to the Islamist, liberal or secular trend.”
“For someone to come and control this [military] institution completely, he could destroy it without noticing and without any intention,” Sisi said in the audio interview that Rasd says was given to the editor-in-chief of independent daily newspaper, Al-Masry al-Youm.
Army calls shots
The military installed a technocrat government immediately after Morsi’s removal amid widespread public approval, but the interim government has played second fiddle to the army.
The 50-member constitution-writing committee, which has no representation from the Muslim Brotherhood that dominated the previous parliament, is still debating the military’s powers.
“This audio proves that the main conflict now is between the old authoritarian regime that has ruled the country since the 1952 military coup and the establishment of a new, democratic, civilian state,” Adel Soleiman, a former military general and head of the Cairo-based Strategic Dialogue Forum for Defence Studies, told Al Jazeera.
The military leaders are telling the people that the regime will not fall, you can bring down one president or 100…but the regime will not change
“Egypt’s military is the old regime,” he said.
During the January 25 revolt that toppled military President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the people called for the ”fall of the regime”.
”The military leaders are telling the people that the regime will not fall, you can bring down one president or 100…but the regime will not change,” Soleiman said.
He said that this indicated that anyone – despite his affiliations – who tries to change the political regime will fail, because ”the military will be untouchable, according to the new constitution”.
Military representatives of the committee have called for the constitution to allow the military to name the defence minister during the next two presidential terms.
This point had been widely criticised by legal experts and politicians who say this would give the military power above the president.
According to Egypt’s 2012 and 1971 constitutions, the president is the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and he is the one who appoints the Defence Minister.
The constitution-writing committee is also discussing whether or not to keep an article, allowing the military trials of civilians that directly assault the armed forces.
No to military trials
Several rights and campaign groups such as ”no to military trials of civilians campaign” have condemned the article – which violates the rights of civilians in a fair trial in front of a civilian court – and demanded that it be removed completely.
There is also fear that the military forces will have immunity against prosecution for the crimes they committed against the people during the 2011 uprising and after Morsi’s removal.
More than 1,000 civilians have been killed during clashes with the military and police forces since July 3.
The draft constitution also has articles guaranteeing the secrecy of the military budget.
“I believe that their inability to estimate the reaction of the military institution and its size is what made them take the last decision [against] the Supreme Council of armed forces,” Sisi said in the audio.
Sisi was referring to Morsi’s decision in August last year to dismiss the Supreme Council of Armed Forces that ruled the country after Mubarak’s ouster and annul their constitutional declaration that curbed the president’s powers.
”Sisi’s words indicate that Morsi’s problem was that he tried to change the regime and build a new one.” Soleiman said.
Meanwhile, Yasser Risk, editor-in-chief of Al-Masry al-Youm, has denied that these leaks were authentic in several statements to local channels.
”The defence minister did not say any of this,” he said, adding that the authentic audio might have been leaked from the newspaper then edited, re-arranged and fabricated before they were released.
Last month, Rasd also leaked videos of Sisi’s meeting with military commanders including a video where Sisi spoke about how to control the media.