Recently in Cairo:
An Egyptian court on Saturday [May 16] sentenced to death the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, along with more than 100 others, for fleeing prison during the 2011 revolt against President Hosni Mubarak.
Mr. Morsi’s conviction is the latest sign of the undoing of the uprising that overthrew Mr. Mubarak. Mr. Morsi, who was Egypt’s first freely elected leader, now faces the death penalty for escaping extralegal detention — a form of detention that many Egyptians hoped would be eliminated by the revolution.
The past few years in Egypt have been painful to watch. The 2011 revolution that seemed to give many moderate Egyptians hope for a more democratic future was snuffed out after a 2013 coup against their first ever elected leader. Morsi was clearly unpopular and his religious extremism arguably rendered him unfit for the office. But it should be clear now that Egypt would be much better off had they democratically replaced him rather than the extreme response from al-Sisi and the Egyptian military.
At the time of the coup, I chatted a lot with a former co-worker from Microsoft who’d gone back to Alexandria (and who Dana and I visited in Cairo in 2007). He was torn between his fear of greater Islamic control of the country and his desire to trust the democratic process. It’s hard for most Americans to put themselves in his shoes. He supported the coup, but hoped it would still lead to more democratic reforms. It hasn’t (and he’s since moved out of the country again).
Ebrahim Deen, a researcher based in South Africa, wrote about Morsi’s death sentence (which he believes won’t actually be carried out) at Informed Comment:
The trial verdicts –Mursi was sentenced to life in prison on the espionage charge as well– were procedurally flawed, defendant’s had irregular access to legal representation, and evidence gathering and cross examination procedures were severely compromised. The glaring fact that the initial arrests were carried out by the former Mubarak regime in early 2011 under emergency law and without detention orders was not considered and so to [sic] was the communication between Mursi and an Aljazeera journalist the day of the ‘breakout’ wherein he provided the name, and street address of the prison, asserting that they were not escaping and would remain at the location awaiting government officials responses. The prosecutorial process had been extremely and even laughably shoddy. Of the around seventy Palestinians sentenced, two (Hossam Sanie and Raed El-Attar) had already died –Sanie as far ago as 2008 and Attar, during Israel’s operation ‘pillar of defence’ in 2014, which caused the deaths of over 2000, mostly civilian, Gazans. Another, Hassan Salama, has purportedly been in detention in Israel since 1996 and could not have possibly committed the alleged crimes from inside an Israeli cell. Further in the espionage case, which saw Muslim Brotherhood leaders including Mohamed El-Beltagy and Mohamed Khairet El-Shater receive death sentences, Emad Shahin, a political science professor now based at Georgetown University, who has no real links with the Brotherhood was handed the same censure, and so to was Sondos Assem, a media liaison official employed by Mursi.
This is an insult to everyone’s intelligence. Morsi is being sentenced for breaking out of a prison that shouldn’t have had the authority to hold him in the first place. Al-Sisi has taken Egypt back to the pre-2011 authoritarian regime where illegal detentions are commonplace, torture is routine, and members of religious parties like the Muslim Brotherhood are presumed to be terrorists, regardless of what those individuals have actually done. Deen continues:
These sentences are the latest in a string of actions adopted by the Sisi regime to crackdown on opposition and descent. Following the 2013 ouster, thousands have been killed, and over 16000 political prisoners currently languish in Egyptian detention facilities. A protest law, which has banned sit-ins and severely curtailed other protest rights, was adopted in November 2013, while in April, the Cairo Administrative Court criminalised worker strikes. Liberals and secular activists have not escaped this purge, in December 2014 Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel, and Ahmed Douma, three influential members of the April 6 youth movement were sentenced to three years for organizing protests in contravention of the protest law, while in February Douma was amongst over two hundred who received life sentences for inciting violence and destroying a science facility housing precious artefacts. Shahin’s farcical conviction falls into this milieu. Being opposed to the military ouster, publically vocalising this through writings and interviews, and being somewhat more ‘reputable’ internationally were the main reasons informing his death sentence. In 2014 alone, over 1400 individuals were sentenced to death in mass trials, which usually took only a few days to complete, and lacked even basic prosecutorial and judicial impartiality. It is noteworthy that the judiciary was a key cog in the political structure which allowed and maintained Mubarak’s regime and that following Mursi’s ouster, Sisi has sought a similar role for the institution –Adli Mansour (head of the Supreme Constitutional Court) was even installed caretaker president following the coup.
At least it’s not a theocracy, I guess.
News items from the last two weeks…