A criminal court in the south of Egypt has sentenced 37 Muslim Brotherhood supporters to death and recommended the death sentence for 682 others. Amongst the convicted is Muslim Brotherhood supreme guide, Mohamed Badie. Critics claim the mass sentencing is part of a crackdown on the movement that could trigger protests and political violence ahead of the presidential elections next month.
The Muslim Brotherhood has been the target of raids and arrests since the ousting of former President Mohamed Morsi last July. The death sentence of Mohamed Badie could infuriate Muslim Brotherhood members, causing more violence. Death sentence recommendations will be passed on to the Egypt’s highest religious authority, the Mufti. However, his opinion can be ignored. The sentencing can be appealed.
The case has been linked to deadly riots in the city and around the country as Egyptian security forces violently dispersed Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins last August. The Muslim Brotherhood was protesting the ousting of Muslim Brotherhood member and Egyptian president Morsi late July.
The same judge that sentenced 37 men to death - and recommended the same to 682 others –Saeed Yousef, sentenced 529 members of the Muslim Brotherhood to death on 24 March. He has a reputation to be though. Authorities see the Muslim Brotherhood as the biggest threat. The movement was the biggest political party in Egypt until last year, when it was outlawed, and has vowed to bring down the government by protest.
The latest mass death sentencing in Egypt has sparked outrage. Amnesty International spokesman Mohamed Elmessiry said the case “lacked basic fair trail guarantees” and that it “killed the credibility of the Egyptian judicial system”. Many of the lawyers for the accused boycotted the hearing, demanding that the judge be replaced and calling him a butcher. Defense lawyer Mohamed Abdel Waheb stated that the trial only took five minutes.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt stated that the trial was an “outrage” and that “the world must and will react”. The United States froze some of its military aid to Egypt last October following the ousting of Mursi and the violent crackdown of his followers, and last week it was announced the US would deliver 10 attack helicopters to Egypt to fight Islamist insurgence in the Sinai desert.
The trials have raised new questions about Egypt’s turbulent political transition after the military-backed ousting of Presidents Mubarak and Morsi and the hope for a democratic Egypt. Military strongman and presidential candidate Al-Sisi is blamed for the repression. The former chief-of-staff of the Egyptian army is expected to easily win the presidential elections, scheduled for 26-27 May.
The political repression in Egypt has extended to secular activists as well. A court in Cairo has banned all activities of the pro-democracy April 6 movement. Three of its leaders received prison sentences for illegal protesting at the end of last year. The charges against the movement include “damaging the image of the state”. The movement played a major role in the uprising that toppled former President Mubarak in 2011. The verdict can be appealed.
Sources: Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera, Reuters.
Author: Koen Migchelbrink