The simultaneous trial of Muslim Brotherhood leaders and the release of Hosni Mubarak reflect the latest round in the collusion between Mubarak appointees in Egypt’s military and judiciary, and with it the latest challenge in the struggle for democracy, rule of law and human rights in Egypt.
Despite post-coup claims by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and his appointed interim president of Egypt, Adly Mansour, that it would support an inclusive democratic process, from the very beginning el-Sisi and the unelected government demonised the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists and sought to eradicate them. The historical record and facts on the ground stand in stark contrast to the record of those who overthrew them. Mohamed Morsi and the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party came to power through ballots, not bullets.
For more than forty years, despite provocation, arrest, detention, rigged elections and state sponsored violence, the Brotherhood did not engage in political or religious violence. Militant Egyptian Islamist organisations, as well as Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the current Egyptian leader of al-Qaeda, have long opposed the Brotherhood because of its gradualism and willingness to compromise even during the Morsi presidency. Ironically and dangerously, the military junta is now purposefully eliminating the ability of the mainstream Muslim Brotherhood leadership and thus opening the way for extremists to mobilise sympathisers. The junta seems to have learned and decided to emulate the lessons of Algeria – you can stay in power if you are willing to sacrifice thousands of your fellow citizens (in Algeria’s case 200,000).
The interim government, an illegitimate product of a military-backed coup, is acting very much like the government of Gamal Abdel Nasser in the past, seeking to crush and destroy the Brotherhood. It has massacred large numbers of the Brotherhood and other opposition in the largest bloodbath in modern Egyptian history. The security forces have deliberately used violence and killing to provoke pro-Morsi non-violent demonstrators to take up arms and fire back, and it has declared its intention to outlaw the MB (as Nasser did, but neither Sadat nor Mubarak did).
Now the military junta and its appointed government have turned to the courts, and charging Brotherhood leaders on trumped-up (false) charges and blaming the victims of violence is not a totally unexpected move. Trials of Morsi and others will no doubt be next. This is but another step in a process that emerged in the aftermath of the 2011 Egyptian revolution led by of many Mubarak regime appointees, in particular the military and judiciary. The process is in fact a counter-revolution. The collusion between the military and the courts has been evident from the SCAF’s policies, the Constitutional Court’s invasive decisions such as the dissolution of the FJP and Salafi-dominated parliament as well as the Constitutional Assembly and culminated with the appointment as interim president of a key anti-Morsi judge and former head of the Supreme Constitutional Court.
Democracy is about a process and the rule of law. The military and its government have not pursued the democratic process to legitimate their power by using parliamentary and presidential elections to discredit the Brotherhood, unseat and replace a democratically elected government and establish their own legitimacy. Instead, el-Sisi and the government have put themselves beyond the rule of law: with a coup, massacres of civilian demonstrators (including many women and children), arrest and illegal detention of hundreds of Brotherhood leaders and members, restoring the dreaded Emergency Law, and now using trials by a corrupt court system.
The Egyptian people, both Mohamed Morsi supporters and opposition, deserve better. The issue here transcends an individual president or political party. Egypt critically needs a return to the goal of its 2011 revolution (free and fair elections, rule of law and human rights), not to authoritarianism and the gutting of democracy.
John L Esposito is University Professor of Religion and International Affairs, Georgetown University and the President of the American Academy of Religion.