Egypt’s eliminationism policy redux

Mass death sentences represent a continuation of Egypt’s eliminationist policy.

Egyptian relatives react outside a court during the trial of Morsi supporters in Minya [EPA]

In a speech delivered before tens of thousands of anti-coup protesters at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square last July, Muslim Brotherhood General Guide Mohamed Badie urged demonstrators to remain peaceful, even if violently attacked. He said, “Our revolution is peaceful, and it will remain peaceful… our peacefulness is more powerful than bullets… our peacefulness is stronger than (military) tanks, and we, with our peacefulness, are stronger than killing,” among other decidedly peaceful declarations. Badie’s speech highlighted his willingness to die for the cause and might be aptly described as non-violent.

On April 28, Badie was sentenced to death, along with 682 others, for incitement to violence in an incident that allegedly led to the death of a single police officer. The trial lasted just eight minutes and was condemned by Amnesty International as a “mockery of justice”.

The shock of the mass death sentence was perhaps diminished slightly by the fact that Egypt’s judiciary had already, in late March, sentenced 529 Muslim Brotherhood supporters to death in a separate court ruling. Until this latest ruling, the March mass sentencing had been the largest and fastest mass death sentence in modern world history.

In Egypt’s politicised judicial system, defendants are unlikely to be able to secure a fair trial. Also, protesters are routinely plucked off the streets and thrown in jail, where, according to new legislation, they can be sentenced to five years merely for protesting. Moreover, and as the recent mass death sentences demonstrate, individuals not guilty of killing anyone can be casually condemned to death in sham trials.

The most likely consequence of Egypt’s subversion of democracy would be a return to some form of authoritarianism. The scale of Egypt’s repression has perhaps exceeded expectations, however.

Islamists, and the Brotherhood in particular, have suffered disproportionately from Egypt’s recent judicial tyranny. Liberal activists have also been jailed and on April 28, the liberal April 6 Movement was officially banned.

Egypt’s security forces, meanwhile, have been left to carry out mass repression without fear of legal repercussions. To date, there have been no serious investigations into the deaths of more than 2,500 protesters killed since last July. On the contrary, Egypt’s prime minister praised police for exercising “self-restraint”.

Eliminationism redux

Arguably, repression in the aftermath of Egypt’s July 3, 2013, military coup was to be expected. In the lead-up to the coup, political scientists warned against the dangers of subverting procedural democracy, saying the most likely consequence of Egypt’s subversion of democracy would be a return to some form of authoritarianism. The scale of Egypt’s repression has perhaps exceeded expectations, however.

Far from being an aberration, Egypt’s recent mass death sentences are entirely consistent with the nation’s current eliminationist policy. Since July 3, the Egyptian military has pursued a campaign to eradicate the Brotherhood and their supporters from public life. In addition to using live ammunition on unarmed protesters, the government has shut down Islamist television networks, arrested more than 16,000 people, banned political Islam, labelled the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation, and, most recently, prevented individual Brotherhood members from running for office as independents.

Importantly, foreign governments have facilitated Egypt’s post-coup eliminationist policy. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait bankrolled the coup, providing Egypt’s military-backed government with about $15bn.

Western democracies and political figures with a stake in Egypt’s affairs, meanwhile, have been either silent about, or have praised Egypt’s return to authoritarianism. Even after multiple mass killings, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that Egypt’s military was “restoring democracy”. In November, after the worst mass killing in Egypt’s modern history, Kerry said that Egypt’s “road map” to democracy was “being carried out to the best of our perceptions”.

Last week, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair praised the military coup and intimated that Saudi Arabia, which preaches an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam and where women aren’t even allowed to drive cars, is more modern, moderate and democratic than the Brotherhood.

To be sure, Egypt’s anti-Brotherhood campaign has also been facilitated by many of Egypt’s liberal political forces. Journalist Max Blumenthal compiled a list of pro-coup tweets written by Egyptian liberals. The tweets justified, and in some cases celebrated, a July 26 massacre of Brotherhood members and supporters. Infamously, Egyptian pop star Amr Mostafa asked his Facebook followers to “like” a wall post in which he called for Brotherhood members “to be executed without trial”.

In the first 24 hours, more than 8,000 people “liked” his post. The virulent anti-Brotherhood sentiment that exists in Egypt’s liberal political circles can be attributed, at least in part, to a media campaign that depicts the Brotherhood as un-Egyptian, disloyal and treasonous. Prominent Egyptian media and political discourses have also propagated a series of anti-Brotherhood myths.

One shouldn’t have to be a supporter of the Brotherhood to recognise and condemn the ongoing campaign to eliminate them. The Brotherhood made numerous mistakes while in power and deserved to face a competitive electoral campaign designed to vote them out of office. They do not, however, deserve the type of brutal repression they are currently facing, in spite of what foreign governments and many Egyptian liberals may say.

Dr Mohamad Elmasry is a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, and an incoming Assistant Professor in the Department of Communications at the University of North Alabama.