Morsi verdict alarms US, experts see 'war' on Brotherhood
CAIRO, Egypt – The United States voiced alarm Sunday, May 17, at death sentences handed to Egypt's ousted president Mohamed Morsi and dozens of others, a verdict experts called a declaration of "total war" on his Muslim Brotherhood.
Morsi was among more than 100 defendants ordered by an Egyptian court on Saturday, May 16, to face the death penalty for their role in a mass jailbreak during the 2011 uprising.
He ruled for only a year before mass protests spurred then-army chief and now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to overthrow him in July 2013.
Sisi won a presidential election in May 2014 backed by Egyptians tired of political turmoil in the world's most populous Arab nation following the 2011 revolt against longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Washington expressed concern over Saturday's verdict.
"We have consistently spoken out against the practice of mass trials and sentences, which are conducted in a manner that is inconsistent with Egypt's international obligations and the rule of law," a State Department official said.
"We continue to stress the need for due process and individualized judicial processes for all Egyptians in the interest of justice."
A government crackdown under Sisi has seen hundreds of Morsi's Islamist supporters killed, thousands jailed and dozens sentenced to death after mass trials which the United Nations has described as "unprecedented in recent history."
On Sunday, prison authorities hanged 6 men convicted in a military court of participating in militant attacks on soldiers, following what Amnesty International labelled a "grossly unfair" trial.
Ties between Washington and Cairo had plummeted in the aftermath of Morsi's ouster, with President Barack Obama's adminstration freezing annual military aid of $1.5 billion to Cairo.
Most of the aid was unblocked in late 2014.
'War' against Brotherhood
Judge Shabaan El-Shamy convicted Morsi, already sentenced to 20 years in jail in a previous trial, and more than 100 other co-defendants of plotting jailbreaks and attacks on police during the 2011 revolt.
Many of the defendants were Palestinians alleged to have worked with Hamas in neighboring Gaza, and were tried in absentia.
Experts said the verdict underscored Sisi's vow to eradicate the 87-year-old Muslim Brotherhood movement, which topped successive polls between the fall of Mubarak and Morsi's presidential win in May 2012.
"The new regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is using all elements of the state to break the political will of the Muslim Brotherhood," Fawaz Gerges, professor of Middle East studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science, told Agence France-Presse.
"The judicial system is also waging an all-out war against the Muslim Brotherhood. This clearly reflects a total war waged by the Egyptian state against the Muslim Brotherhood."
Rights groups accuse the authorities of using the judiciary to repress the opposition, primarily the Brotherhood, which was designated a "terrorist group" in December 2013.
Officials blame the Brotherhood for attacks that have killed hundreds of security personnel since Morsi's ouster, a charge the movement denies.
The jihadist group Sinai Province, the Egyptian affiliate of the Islamic State organization, has claimed most of the attacks, mainly in the Sinai Peninsula where it spearheads an Islamist insurgency.
Saturday's verdict shows "how tainted the judiciary is," said Peter Sluglett, director of Middle East Institute at National University of Singapore.
The judiciary "is obviously in the pocket of the government," he said. "This is an act of stupidity and folly as well as cruelty and revenge."
Verdict could be commuted
The court will pronounce its final decision on June 2. Under Egyptian law, death sentences are referred to the mufti, the government's interpreter of Islamic law, who plays an advisory role.
Defendants can still appeal even after the mufti's recommendation.
The verdict has raised many questions, said Mustafa Kamel Al-Sayyid, political professor at Cairo University.
"Morsi was a detainee and not a prisoner when the revolution against Mubarak erupted. So for someone who is not condemned and detained illegally, for him to get out of a prison is not a crime.
"Also how can he plot attacks when he himself was detained? The court is listening to only those who are accusing him."
H.A. Hellyer, an expert at the Washington-based Brookings Institute, said the verdict was likely to be commuted after the mufti's advisory opinion, or after an appeal, as many other sentences have been.
"Of course, that still means judicial reform is necessary and there is very little political will to carry it out," he said. – Jay Deshmukh, AFP/Rappler.com