President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi passed a law giving him the power to remove immunized heads of supervisory bodies on Thursday.
The law gives the president, who has been the sole holder of executive and parliamentary powers for over a year, the right to remove heads and members of independent and supervisory bodies in cases where they “harm national security” or fail to carry out the missions of their position.
Many believe this move will further centralize power in the hands of the president and fear that it is one more step toward a totalitarian state.
“Since the election of the president, we don’t have any powers other than the executive, the president is acting like a god,” says Tamer al-Meehy, leading member at the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP.) He explained that the executive branch should have no power over independent bodies whose mission is to supervise the executive.
Among the bodies affected by the decision is the Central Auditing Authority (CAA) responsible for overseeing state funds and expenditure and revealing financial corruption.
Many local media outlets speculated that the law was tailored to get rid of Hesham Geneina, the head of the CAA. Geneina has made several statements accusing a number of state institutions of corruption, including the Interior Ministry, the Judges Club and the General Prosecution.
Geneina held a press conference in February 2014 where he announced the CAA’s findings regarding corrupt practices in the allocation of state lands. These practices involved the Judges Club, the General Prosecution and other state bodies. Geneina referred the case to the general prosecutor’s office and requested the formation of a fact-finding committee to investigate the case
In an interview with the privately owned Shorouk newspaper, Geneina said that he has been threatened by different state actors trying to deter him from announcing his corruption findings.
He also mentioned that the Interior Ministry squandered billions of dollars through 38 special funds that the CAA was able to discover before Interior Ministry officials removed CAA investigators from the Interior Ministry building half-way through their investigation.
Ahmed al-Zend, the then-head of the judges club and the current justice minister, later started an aggressive attack on Geneina, promising that he would be removed from his position soon.
However, Meehy says that the probable removal of Geneina is only a minor effect of the new law.
“The features of an oppressive and totalitarian regime where all the powers are in the hands of the ruler is forming, this will have catastrophic consequences,” Meehy explains, adding that the exceptional measures taken with the pretext of the war on terror could have devastating effects.
“Once the current war is over, they will find that the basis for the state that they are trying to build and protect has been compromised,” says Meehy.
Meehy says that with compromised judiciary and supervisory bodies, the only remaining form of checks and balances on the executive will occur outside the constitutional context in the form of battles between institutions, which will ultimately reveal corruption.
Like several laws issued throughout the past year and a half, the new law faces accusations of unconstitutionality and clashes with pre-existing laws, setting the stage for future battles at the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC).
The newly passed law clashes with laws regarding of several of the bodies involved, including the CAA, as the law states that the head of the CAA is to be appointed by the president for a four-year term and cannot be removed.
Law professor and constitutional expert Mohamed Nour Farahat believes that despite the new law, the president’s hands remain tied due to the legal principle which states that specific laws regulating the work of a certain entity, like the one already in place regarding the CAA, trump general laws. He adds that the president’s decision to remove the heads of supervisory and independent bodies will be subject to revision by the State Council to ensure its legality and fairness.
Technicalities aside, Farahat says there are bigger questions to ask.
“The timing of this law’s issue is worthy of questioning. And the even more bewildering issue is the lack of investigation in the corruption cases the CAA has pointed out in some sovereign institutions. Do we really live in a country that fights corruption?” he asks.
While he concedes that the new law contradicts older laws and the constitution, defense lawyer Taher Aboul Nasr says that, in the current situation of legal chaos it could still be put into practice. “The law goes against the constitution but it’s clear that this doesn’t matter now, there are always loopholes and legal justifications to do anything.”
Article 215 of the current constitution states that supervisory and independent bodies are to be consulted regarding regulations and laws that relate to its work.
Article 216 states that the heads of these bodies are to be appointed by the president with a majority approval from the parliament and that they cannot be removed “except in cases stated by law.”
Beyond the law, Aboul Nasr says that the real problem is the lack of political will to fight corruption and the lack of mechanisms to ensure the reports issued by these bodies translate into the prosecution and trial of the flagged officials.