What do Copts and presidential contender Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi have in common? They’re all targets of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) gall. In the wake of the recent court rulings which included death sentences against them, the MB and their supporters declared “a trumpet call” [a rally to war] and threatened to kill Sisi and all Copts, and to turn Egypt into an Islamic Emirate.
A criminal court in Minya, Upper Egypt, had recently referred the cases of 683 supporters of overthrown Islamist president Muhammad Mursi, including the MB Supreme Guide Muhammad Badie, to the Grand Mufti of Egypt for his opinion on
recommended death sentences. The charge against them was murder and committing and inciting violence in Minya. The final sentence has yet to wait till 21 June.
According to Egyptian law, a death penalty is not final until it is ratified by Egypt’s Grand Mufti—a mufti is one authorised to issue fatwa, an Islamic legal edict.
The 683 MB are accused of killing and attempted killing of police officers during the MB attacks against the police in Minya in August 2013, which the Islamists waged in retaliation against the breakup by the police of their five-week-long violent sit-ins in Cairo.
The sentence against the MB Supreme Guide is the harshest yet passed on any of the leaders of the MB who are currently being tried in more than 150 cases since the overthrow of Mursi last July.
Ali Zein al-Abideen, Professor of Criminal Law at the Police Academy, explains that the death ‘sentence’ is in fact only a recommendation of a death penalty. According to Egyptian law, the grand mufti should approve that recommendation after confirming that the offence is punishable by death according to Islamic sharia (Islamic law). Once the sentence is approved, it may be appealed in front of the court of cassation which either upholds it or orders a fresh trial. Zein al-Abideen also points out that most of the Minya defendants were sentenced in absentia. Legally, defendants tried in absentia are handed the harshest sentence. Once they get arrested or turn themselves in, the sentence no longer stands and the court orders a retrial. The sentence passed in absentia is a comminatory one, meaning it is a legal threat of punishment.
In March, a similar case was heard by the same judge Said Youssef who referred the death sentence of 529 MB supporters to the Grand Mufti. Judge Youssef said the atrocious crime would never have been possible had it not been for the complicity of all the defendants. The mufti recommended that only those who actively participated in the crime may be sentenced to death, and recommended that 82 of the defendants had committed offences that warranted the death penalty. But Judge Youssef issued the final sentence on Monday 28 May, confirming the death penalty for 37 of the defendants and reducing it to life imprisonment (25 years) for the others.
The ‘death sentences’ were met with censure from the international community, and were branded as appalling violations of human rights.
The US, France, Germany, the UK, Israel, Sweden, Iran, Amnesty International and the UN’s Ban Ki Moon all condemned the mass sentences and called upon Egypt to overturn them. They hinted that the judiciary and courts have been politicised.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, however, rejected international interference in Egypt’s domestic affairs, and insisted that the Egyptian judiciary is fully independent. Egypt’s Justice Minister Nayer Othman said the allegation that the sentences were politicised was an offence to Egypt’s judges, and that no-one in the executive authority exercised any influence whatsoever on the judiciary.
Yet even as the international community rose up against the death sentences, the MB received a blow from the International Criminal Court which rejected the MB’s demand to probe the military’s alleged crimes against humanity in Egypt. Professor of international law Nabil Salem explained that the court does not see cases by private citizens against their country’s regimes because this would be a direct violation of sovereignty.
“Turn Egypt into hell”
The MB and its Islamist supporters responded to the court recommendation of death sentences with flagrant threats. Perhaps the most serious came from the Islamist group Ansaar Bait al-Muqdis which is famous for its intimate ties with the MB. Allegedly, it was set up by the MB to do the ‘dirty work’ while the MB kept their hands clean. In video footage on a Twitter account under the name Taghreedat min Ard al-Malaahim (Tweets from the Land of Epics), a masked member of the group who calls himself Abu-Ahmed al-Masri said: “We have sufficient potential martyrs to turn Egypt into hell. We’ll kill all the Copts and those in the Egyptian army who support Sisi; if not today then tomorrow. Not one will be spared.” He threatened that the “mighty sinners” in Egypt will face the same fate as those in Syria. “The angels are fighting on our side and we will never give up,” he said.
Gamal Hishmat, member and spokesperson of the MB now resident in Turkey, said the death sentences will not scare the MB or reduce their effectiveness on the street. Ali Khafagi of the now-defunct MB Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) said from Qatar where he has taken residence that the MB is declaring a state of war in order to liberate their members who were handed death sentences. “We’re dead in all cases,” he said. “We won’t go down without a fight.”
“The US will not stand silent”
The MB also threatened to rally the international community against Egypt. Hamza Zobae, a leading figure of the FJP, said the MB intended to submit a new complaint to the ICC in view of the death sentences.
When the ousted Islamist president Muhammad Mursi learned of the death sentences which included one for Badie, he looked stunned. From the dock where he was standing trial on charges of espionage, he exclaimed: “The US will not stand silent at this!”
Badie, however, laughed and said: “Go buy me a red costume,” [the costume donned by those awaiting execution]. If sentenced, Badie will be the second Supreme Guide to face that fate; the first was Hassan al-Hudaibi in 1954, but his sentence was reduced by President Gamal Abdel-Nasser to life imprisonment.
Sources from the Interior Ministry said the threats by the MB and Ansaar Bait al-Muqdis are part of a tactical psychological war to terrorise Egyptians. General Hamdy Bassiouni, a former aide to the Interior Minister, said that MB terrorism against Egyptians is already in full force, but is being depleted by the efforts of the police. MB activity is now restricted to primitive bombings which, despite the victims that fall, is not capable of turning the tide in Egypt. A spokesman for the ministry stressed that it was prepared to face terrorist acts and that security precautions have been intensified around churches and public buildings.
Atrocity at its most savage
While the international community stands aghast at the mass ‘death sentences’, Egyptians
see the response as overblown. Apart from appearing to ignore the fact that these are no sentences in the first place, no mention has been made by the international community of the scale of utter atrocity of the crimes committed. A young Egyptian female teacher said: “Why doesn’t our Foreign Ministry air the video footage of the crime, just for the whole world to see mob atrocity at its most savage. It’s so easy to say a sentence is overly harsh when you’ve no idea of the crime committed.”
Worse, Egyptians can see the MB are unrepentant and are actually threatening more of the same. The general feeling among Egyptians is that MB deeds expose just how far removed their loyalties are from Egypt. A taxi driver in his late thirties exclaimed: “They [the MB] can’t have a drop of Egyptian blood in their veins. Who are they fighting? There own folk! And what are they ruining? Their own country! And all because they were ousted from power? Well, they’re not the first ever to face such a fate nor will they be the last. Mubarak was ousted too; his supporters never did anything like that. In fact, Egyptians will never forget that he preferred to step down rather than let the country sink into a quagmire of violence. But the MB have no qualms about that; they rather revel in the violence and destruction.”
It’s all about loyalty
As for the stance of the US and other western countries, mainstream Egyptians see it as reeking of hypocrisy. The man-in-the-street in Egypt cannot reconcile American support of the MB in Egypt with US hostility towards Hamas in the Palestinian territory, seeing that Hamas is no more than the MB Palestinian arm.
But it is the Islamist threat against the Copts which has drawn the most ire. Copts have always been the target of Islamist threats, hate, and violence. They lost lives, homes, churches, property, businesses and livelihoods at the hands of Islamists. Yet not once did they resort to the international community for protection or support against their fellow Egyptians. What a contrast to the MB’s loyalty to Egypt. And if you’re not loyal to a country, conventional wisdom would ask, what right have you to demand to be given the privilege to rule it?
3 May 2014