The Ministry of Defence granted non-commissioned border guard officers the right to arrest civilians in accordance with military law, according to an announcement published in the state-run Official Gazette on Tuesday.
Non-commissioned are low-ranking officers, including corporals and sergeants.
The decision, approved by Minister of Defence Sedki Sobhi, entails that “non-commissioned officers from the Egyptian border guard are granted the power of military magistrate”.
The decision entails that anyone arrested in border areas, whether at sea or overland, will be subjected to military prosecution.
The Egyptian Border Guard includes the Coast Guard, which is a part of the navy and is responsible for securing public installations near the coast. It also patrols coastal waters to prevent smuggling, illegal migration, piracy, and terrorism.
The decision comes after President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi issued a decree Saturday on the demarcation of areas adjacent to the western, southern, and eastern border areas of Egypt, in an effort to secure them.
The decree authorises the armed forces to safeguard areas contiguous to the borders by prohibiting individuals “to go over or under the land”. The latter indirectly refers to the smuggling tunnels connecting the town of Rafah in Egypt to the Gaza Strip, part of the Palestinian territories.
After the October Sinai attack which left over 30 army personnel killed, Al-Sisi issued a decree that will refer those accused of crimes against the state’s “vital” facilities to military prosecution.
The law “[pertains] to the protection of vital and public facilities”, according to the presidency, which added that the armed forces and police will coordinate to protect these facilities.
The law provoked negative reactions from human rights organisations. Human Rights Watch (HRW) described it as “another nail in the coffin of justice in Egypt”.
Military trials for civilians have become more common since then. Five Al-Azhar students were referred to a military court on 16 November. The Suez Military Court issued prison sentences for 20 civilians on 17 November.
Military trials are held in maximum security military establishments inaccessible to defendants’ lawyers and families.