The President who conspired against Egypt
Even though the death sentence for Egypt’s former president, the Islamist Muhammad Mursi who held office from June 2012 to July 2013, was pronounced Saturday 16 May the case dates back to as early as 2013. Egyptians in their wide majority view Mr Mursi’s one year in office as among the darkest period in the country’s history; so much so that they gathered in massive protest on 30 June 2013 to demand that he leaves office. The rest is now history; the 33-million strong nationwide protest drove the army to issue a 48-hour ultimatum to the President to resolve the crisis, otherwise the army would impose a roadmap for a democratic transition in Egypt. Mr Mursi belligerently rejected the ultimatum and, on 3 July the military took over and the Roadmap—drawn by representatives of the various sectors of the Egyptian people—was placed in action.
Egyptians did not overthrow Mr Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood (MB) regime for nothing. They had chosen of their own free will to give the MB a chance at running the country and fulfilling their promises to lead Egypt into a democratic and prosperous future in the wake of the Arab Spring uprising in January 2011. The outcome, however, was disastrous. Mr Mursi effectively put an end to all democratic practice in a notorious November 2012 presidential decree that gave him far reaching power and immunity against judicial rulings, and failed to bring about any measure that would even remotely lead to prosperity. The economy nosedived. But perhaps the worst grievance Egyptians held against him was his unabashed attempt to wipe out Egypt’s time honoured traditions—her Egyptianness, so to speak—and replace it with loyalty to Islamism and prospects of a pan-world Islamic caliphate. It was obvious that by the time the ‘democratically elected’ Mr Mursi had served his term in office there would be no democracy to allow voting in a different regime nor regaining Egypt from the tenterhooks of Islamism.
The judiciary were the bitter enemy of Mr Mursi, the institution he could not vanquish; hence his decision to grant his decisions immunity against court rulings. Even while yet in office, a few patriotic Egyptians filed complaints to the Prosecutor General accusing leaders of the MB and President Mursi of espionage and conspiracy with foreign organisations and countries against Egypt. Needless to say, the claims were summarily dismissed.
Once the MB fell, however, the complaints were again filed; this time the new Prosecutor General decided there was sufficient evidence to refer the case to court.
Espionage and jail break
In December 2013, Mursi and 35 MB leaders and members were put to trial on charges of espionage; they were accused of collaboration with foreign groups and organisations, disclosure of State security secrets, and coordination with jihadist groups to execute terrorist attacks on Egyptian soil.
In January 2014, Mursi along with 128 leaders and members of MB, Palestinian group Hamas and Lebanese Hizbullah were put to trial on charges of breaking out of Wadi al-Natrun prison during the 2011 Arab Spring uprising and the kidnapping of Egyptian police officers and detaining them in Gaza
On Saturday 16 May 2015, Cairo’s Criminal Court headed by judge Shaaban al-Shami issued its verdict in the two cases. In the case of espionage, the court recommended the death sentence for 16 MB leaders, including the prominent figures Khairat al-Shater, Muhammad al-Beltagui, Mahmoud Ezzat and Sayed al-Banna. The court also recommended the death sentence for another 108 MB members in the case of the prison break, including Muhammad Mursi and Muhammad Badie, the MB’s Supreme Guide.
According to the Egyptian judicial system, these death sentences are preliminary and must be referred to the Grand Mufti for his consultative opinion before they are finalised. The final verdict is set for 2 June.
Once the verdict was out, it appeared that all hell broke loose on the international front.
Amnesty International described Mursi’s sentence as “a charade based on null and void procedures“. Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International said: “Any semblance of a fair trial was jeopardised from the outset by a string of irregularities in the judicial process and his [Mr Mursi’s] arbitrary, incommunicado detention. His conviction must be quashed and the authorities must order a full re-trial in a civilian court or release him.”
A US State Department official said: “We are deeply concerned by yet another mass death sentence handed down by an Egyptian court to more than 100 defendants, including former president Mursi.” Such trials, he claimed, were “conducted in a manner inconsistent with Egypt’s international obligations and the rule of law.”
In the same vein, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued a press release condemning the death sentences. Tobias Ellwood, Minster for the Middle East and North Africa said: “The UK Government is deeply concerned by the sentencing to death of former President Mursi and over 100 others. We note that there are further stages in the legal process, and will continue to follow this case closely. We look to the Egyptian authorities to apply the rule of law consistently in line with international standards, and to protect the political and legal rights of all Egyptians as the basis for the country’s future stability.
It is the long-standing policy of the UK Government to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle.”
The EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini also condemned the rulings and said she was sure they would be revised by the Court of Cassation.
Erdogan, MB, and Hamas in one basket
Predictably, the MB and Hamas both denounced the verdict. MB leader Amr Darrag who currently lives in Istanbul considered that death sentence for Mursi and the MB leaders represents a political ruling and mass murder which must be stopped by the international community.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a staunch ally of Mr Mursi, condemned the ruling. On Turkish media, Mr Erdogan heavily criticised the death sentence given to ousted president Mursi and leaders of the MB. “Egypt is turning back to old Egypt. You know what old Egypt is about, don’t you?” he said. “Al-Sisi cannot be stopped. The West does not take a position against the coup maker Sisi. They [Western leaders and Sisi] meet and display solidarity.”
China, however, did not condemn Saturday’s court rulings. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a press conference that the Chinese government refuses to comment on the Egypt’s court rulings which he said were “a domestic affair”.
Egypt, for its part, was quick to deplore international comments on the court rulings. On Sunday 17 May an official Egyptian press release in the English language was posted on the website of the State Information Service. The press release described the comments on the Saturday 16 May 2015 rulings of the Cairo Criminal Court by international governmental and non-governmental organisations as “reflecting ignorance and lack of accuracy”.
No special court
“The Cairo Criminal Court did not issue any judicial rulings in the two cases today, but has just made two decisions to refer the cases to the Mufti for his consultative opinion, and will issue the verdict in the two cases on 2 June,” the statement said. “In accordance with the provisions of the Egyptian law, the defendants are being tried before a normal court and a normal judge and not before a special court, and litigation is absolutely guaranteed for the defendants to ensure a fair trial.”
The statement went on to explain that the sentences were not final, and that the judicial system secured the rights of the defendents to several stages of appealing the verdict. “In case death sentences are issued in the hearing scheduled on 2 June the defendants have the right to contest the sentences before the Court of Cassation. The Court of Cassation has the right to either repeal the ruling and refer it to a different court for a retrial, or to confirm it. Even if the new court issues the same execution sentence, the defendants again have the right to contest the ruling; if they do so, the Court of Cassation itself will be tasked with issuing a verdict.”
Crimes by any other name
The statement called on all parties who commented on the court ruling to look thoroughly and objectively into the cases. The defendants, the statement reminded, were accused of espionage. They “plotted operations against the State, including attacks on security facilities and security personnel, killing and abducting police officers and personnel, in addition to attacks on prisons and sabotage of prison buildings, and killing prisoners. Muhammad Mursi and others are accused of spying for the benefit of foreign entities, disclosing secrets pertaining to the country’s national security, and coordinating with militant groups inside and outside the country to plot terrorist operations. As for ‘The Escape from Wadi Natrun Prison’ case, the defendants are accused of plotting with foreign entities and the Global Muslim Brotherhood Organisation to create a state of chaos in the country, training militias to conduct anti–State operations, attacking prisons, and assisting in the escape of prisoners.” Such criminal acts, the statement declared, “violate Egyptian law and are considered crimes in all countries that pay lip service to the principles of democracy. The reactions of these countries to the court decisions constitute an unacceptable intrusion into the work of the Egyptian judicial system, and display a complete lack of respect for its procedures. They also represent a blatant disregard for the core principles of any true democratic system, at their fore being separation of powers, independence of the judiciary, and the inadmissibility of comments on the verdicts of the judiciary from foreign or domestic entities, as they are considered an infringement upon the independence of the judiciary.”
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry issued its own statement over the issue. It expressed extreme discontent at the international comments against the court rulings, branding these comments as “unacceptable, and a gross intervention in Egypt’s domestic affairs. The judiciary carries the responsibility of bringing justice to the society in accordance with clear legal and constitutional rules that match international judicial standards.
“It is astonishing,” the statement said, “that countries and organisations should embark upon defending persons accused of committing terrorist acts, put on trial in front of a normal court, and provided with all litigation proceedings while at the same time they fail to issue any statements to condemn the terrorist act on Saturday 16 May in the town of al-Arish and which resulted in the death of three judges who were killed for the sole reason of defending justice and upholding the rule of law.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reminds those who brag about defending human rights and reject court rulings that they had better mind their own business instead of interfering in other countries’ domestic affairs. This is especially true since some of their own countries are witnessing violations of democracy and human rights such as restrictions on journalists, judges and social media. Some are suffering from discrimination against their own citizens, others are inciting hate against foreigners, not to mention the double standards adopted by some international governmental and non-governmental organisations and their total lack of objectivity.”
20 May 2015