Egypt has come under mounting international criticism over its human rights record, in light of hundreds of cases of deaths and torture in detention facilities, restrictions on freedom of expression and use of the death penalty. These days, the Muslim Brotherhood, banned by the government following the toppling of President Mohammed Morsi in 2013, is hoping to bring additional pressure to bear in continuing to seek accountability for the hundreds of protesters killed that year. Morsi’s recent death has again put the spotlight on Egypt’s treatment of prisoners in its care.
Following Morsi’s death during a court appearance on June 17, Egyptian human rights organizations announced that Morsi’s family and the Muslim Brotherhood, which he had led, hold the Egyptian government responsible for his death, accusing it of deliberately neglecting his health while detaining him under deplorable conditions. Meanwhile, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for an independent investigation into the circumstances of Morsi’s death and to examine aspects of his treatment during his detention for nearly six years.
In May 2014, almost a year after Morsi was ousted, the International Criminal Court (ICC) rejected a request by lawyers on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood to investigate what the group claimed were “crimes against humanity” committed by the Egyptian government in relation to the violent dispersal of the Rabia al-Adawiya sit-in in August 2013 during which 632 people were killed. Authorities killed another 230 protesters at al-Nahda Square. The Brotherhood has further accused the government of extrajudicial mass killings, charging that it purposely killed some of its leaders, including Nasser al-Hafi, who died during an apartment raid on the outskirts of Cairo in 2015.
The ICC rejected the Brotherhood’s petition because such requests must originate from a state that is party to the Rome Statute. Despite this setback, the Brotherhood continues to seek ways to prosecute the military leaders in charge at the time of Morsi’s ousting and the Rabia al-Adawiya massacre. A law granting Egyptian army leaders immunity from prosecution in Egypt and diplomatic status and thus immunity abroad is hindering its effort. In July 2018, Sisi approved the Law Concerning the Treatment of Some Senior Officers of the Armed Forces, which provides legal immunity as well as financial and other privileges for military leaders active from June 2013 to December 2014.
“The group is launching an extensive international campaign targeting the military’s immunity law by exposing the regime’s efforts to cover up the crimes it has committed against the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic groups since 2013,” Ghorab said. “The group’s lawyers are working on thorough files against [the individual] military leaders in Egypt to be presented to the ICC, the European Parliament, the US Congress and a number of international organizations to increase pressure on the Egyptian regime. And this time we will not demand an investigation into the Egyptian regime as happened in 2014, but we will ask that military leaders be sued as individuals.”
“The  law has major constitutional and legal loopholes, and there is no such thing as immunity from trial,” Ghorab claimed. “We will now work on pressuring Egyptian officials and Egyptian MPs to abolish this law.”
Ghorab pointed specifically to Article 53 of the Egyptian Constitution, which states, “Citizens are equal before the law, possess equal rights and public duties, and may not be discriminated against on the basis of religion, belief, sex, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographical affiliation, or for any other reason.” An Egyptian lawyer who works with the Brotherhood told Al-Monitor on the condition of anonymity that the group will file complaints and suits against the law before the Constitutional Court in Egypt, arguing that it violates the Constitution in giving preference to a certain category of people and thus discriminates against others.
Ahmad al-Awadi, a member of the parliament’s Committee of the National Defense and Security, claims that the purpose of the 2018 law is not about shielding officials. “It is to honor or award the army leaders for what they have done and sacrificed,” Awadi told Al-Monitor. “Those leaders put themselves in danger to save the Egyptians from the Brotherhood’s regime after calling on ousting it June 30 , and it was necessary to properly honor and thank them.”
Awadi further noted, “I refuse to use the word ‘immunity’ with the law because it suggests that there was a violation of the law, but in fact, we are the ones who set laws and legislation in parliament, so there is no violation in this matter. On the contrary, I suppose it is important to expand the law so it includes police officers as well.”
Awadi declined to comment directly on the statements about abolishing the law and prosecuting regime leaders abroad, but asserted, “The Egyptian people will protect their men and their army commanders. They will make sure no harm is done to them.”