Morsi’s punishment is a crime

The Morsi verdict is a message to those who would challenge the military’s authority in Egypt.

Egyptian policemen secure Egypt’s national police academy, where an Egyptian criminal court sentenced Morsi to 20 years in prison [AP]
Egyptian policemen secure Egypt’s national police academy, where a court sentenced Morsi to 20 years in prison [AP]

Egypt under the leadership of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has become synonymous with the strong-arm tactics of a military dictator, and one who fears the state’s citizens. Sisi himself would no doubt baulk at the suggestion of fear, but in reality this can be the only reason.

If fear were not relevant, why would there be mass trials where hundreds are convicted in secret trials, in a matter of hours, and sentenced to death in even less time? Why would there be so much emphasis on convicting those whose only crime has been to speak out against the state and the military coup leaders, and why, if fear was irrelevant, would the trial of the first democratically elected leader of Egypt be held under a shroud of secrecy? 

Morsi trial delayed due to ‘bad weather’

President Mohamed Morsi, regardless of whether one agrees with his policies, was – and is – the only legitimately democratically elected leader of Egypt.

He was not removed at the ballot box, he was removed at the barrel of a gun, and despite the international community’s reluctance to call it so, he was removed by an illegal military coup d’etat led by Sisi.

Military coup and crackdown

The response by the military coup leaders was to outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood, to designate it a terrorist organisation and seek to prosecute all those who showed support.

In effect, persecuting civilians for holding a contrary political view. To implement such a state policy, the Sisi regime has effectively hijacked the entire judiciary as an extension of the executive.

The illegitimacy of these prosecutions, and the implausible basis of the charges, are apparent in the procedure adopted by the courts in that on occasion, over 200 defendants stood trial at the same time, and were convicted in a matter of hours. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, as well numerous human rights groups, has highly criticised such a process as failing the very basic tenets of the rule of law.

To consider the prosecution of Morsi, we see the selective approach to justice adopted by Sisi’s Egypt. Morsi was tried and convicted of being responsible for the violence that led to the deaths of at least 10 people outside the presidential palace, and today has been sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. The sentence followed a trial held in secret, a trial where lawyers were given little access to their client, and thus effectively preventing the deposed former president from being able to defend himself.

Why, if fear was irrelevant, would the trial of the first democratically elected leader of Egypt be held under a shroud of secrecy?


In contrast, those responsible for the massacre of at least 638 protesters at Rabaa Square in August 2013 have not been prosecuted, and further, no investigation into the incident has been mounted. 

International complicity

Despite this selective approach, the international community has shown a willingness to effectively turn a “blind eye” to the mounting incidents of human rights abuses, and the thousands of miscarriages of justice all done in the name of political, economic, or military expediency.

If there is evidence to suggest that Morsi and/or his supporters are responsible for crimes then of course they should be prosecuted, however, those prosecutions must adhere to principles of justice.

All defendants must be given access to counsel, be given sight of the evidence against them, and afforded their fair trial rights.

To adopt a practise of circumventing the rule of law speaks volumes of the credibility of the process and demonstrates a clear commitment to destroy democratic principles of transparency and due process and adopt a Stalinistic approach of crushing dissent.

To continue in the manner that we see in Sisi’s Egypt simply shows that dissent or a divergence of opinion is dealt with by way of arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention, staged prosecution, and by extrajudicial killing.

Egypt remains in a state of crisis, a crisis brought about by increasingly authoritarian and autocratic rule. There has been no change in Egypt following the ousting of Hosni Mubarak; one dictator has been replaced with a different model of the same.

Family and friends react to court rulings against those who took part in protests [Reuters]
Family and friends react to court rulings against those who took part in protests [Reuters]

What the international community had hoped was a new dawn in Egypt’s political and economic development has quickly descended into an exercise in the suppression of freedom and rights.

Rampant injustice

The conviction and sentencing of Morsi is not part of any democratic process and departs from the basic rules of justice. It cannot and should not be justified.

It is simply a symbolic act by Sisi, re-affirming the principle that it is the military in Egypt that holds the power and for those that dare to challenge its authority, the consequences will be swift and final, and yet the rhetoric of other nations is that Egypt is in a period of transition towards democracy. It is not, and arguably, has moved further away from democracy than ever before.

It is hoped that the rhetoric of “transition” will be replaced with condemnation of a regime that punishes its citizens for dissent. The international community must adopt a uniform approach to human rights and justice, and can no longer continue its own selective approach.

Not to condemn the iron rule of Sisi, and not to condemn the clear abuses, while still continuing to supply the regime with arms and military aid, renders the international community complicit in those abuses. It renders it party to the mockery of democracy, and renders it responsible.

The trial of Morsi as with the countless other examples since the military coup, has been a farce, and is merely a tool of propaganda. These actions are not be tolerated in other states and so they should not be tolerated in Egypt.

As I wrote previously: “The Arab Spring did not start in Egypt, but it did end there.” Today is clear evidence of that.

Toby Cadman is an international criminal law specialist. He is a barrister member at Nine Bedford Row International Chambers in London and a member of the International Criminal Bureau in The Hague.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.