By Mai Shams El-Din
CAIRO: Egypt’s Administrative Court decided Monday to reactivate the Treachery Act, a post 1952 revolution law, to criminalize former regime officials in cases of political corruption, triggering fierce debate.
Amended on Sept. 1, 1952, the act has been evoked by the Cabinet to target members of the dissolved National Democratic Party (NDP).
“The Treachery Act is illegal and violates human rights and international agreements … it will not be used only against former regime officials, but also against whoever opposes the ruling military junta,” vice president of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Ziad Abdel Tawab, told Daily News Egypt Wednesday.
“The court [hearing these cases] will consist of members of the military in addition to judges, which gives authority to the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) to intervene in the trials,” he added.
The Treachery Act was enacted in 1952 to criminalize all regime officials connected to King Farouk’s ousted monarchy, punishing all politically corrupt officials who held public positions by sacking them from their posts and preventing them from any political activity for five years. The Act even allowed for the extreme punishment of revoking Egyptian citizenship as in the case of King Farouk himself.
“This act was used by the Nasser regime to destroy civil liberties and political life, reactivating it now means moving backwards,” Abdel-Tawab added.
“Including military officials on the judges’ board also means that the trials will be held in secret. This deprives Egyptians from their right to know how Egypt was politically destroyed before Jan. 25.”
Professor of constitutional law at Cairo University Anas Gaafar, however, disagrees.
“The aftermath of the Jan. 25 uprising will never allow this Act to violate civil liberties or harm political life,” he told DNE.
“The January 25 Revolution created new realities, so the ruling military council cannot by any means use it to restrict freedoms, or why did the revolution erupt at the first place?” he said.
“The Treachery Act was not used against the revolutionaries back in 1952, and we cannot say that it was used against the opponents of the Nasser regime. We need to get rid of the NDP’s regime officials before the next parliamentary elections,” he added.
But Abdel Tawab said other legal solutions can be created to punish former regime officials without violating human rights through exceptional laws.
“Although our penal code used to include articles that criminalize political corruption, the former regime made many adjustments to them to protect itself from accountability,” he explained.
“The SCAF’s constitutional declaration acknowledges Egypt’s commitment to all international agreements, which criminalize political corruption; this could be a legal exit strategy to punish all former regime officials in civil courts,” he said.
Head of Alexandria’s Court of Cassation Ahmed Mekki told Daily News Egypt that “an intermediate solution” can help resolve the dilemma without violating human rights or putting more burdens on the Egyptian judiciary.
“An administrative decision can be taken by the Cabinet to politically exclude all former regime officials by banning them from political activity and sacking them from any government positions,” Mekki suggested.
“Such decisions can be appealed only before the State Council which will endorse the Cabinet’s decision. This will be a politicized court ruling similar to the Administrative Court’s decision to dissolve NDP and municipal councils.”
Mekki considered it normal for a revolution to exclude its opponents, and such a move would be crucial to protect the revolution from its enemies.
A similar act was passed in Britain in 1940 during World War II in the UK to facilitate the prosecution of enemy spies, which normally took longer to gather evidence against agents accused of espionage.
But Mekki feared that the act will put too much burden on the judiciary which is burdened by the trials of those implicated in the killing of protesters and financial corruption.
“I was told by the Minister of Justice Abdel Aziz El-Gindy that the panel of judges will consist of members of the Criminal Court only, so there is no fear that the military will control the proceedings,” Mekki said.
The Free Egyptians Party was the first political party to support the reactivation of the Treachery Act in a statement released Tuesday, saying that it was an important step towards democracy and achieving the demands of the revolution, but recommended some amendments.
“The judicial panel hearing these cases should consist only of judges with no representation from the SCAF, and the political exclusion should include all members of the dissolved NDP, not just members of parliament,” the statement read.
The Ministry of Justice is still in the process of studying the act to make final amendments before it is activated.