Beyond issues of ethics and morality, Morsi’s sentence could push the situation in Egypt over the edge.
Perhaps those of us who have denounced Egyptian exceptionalism as a farce spoke too quickly. Egypt may be, after all, the only nation in the world with a justice system that convicts dead people for committing crimes from the grave and prisoners for committing street offenses from their cells.
On Saturday, an Egyptian court sentenced Mohamed Morsi, the only democratically elected president in the nation’s modern history, to death, along with more than 100 others. Among those sentenced to death were two people who were apparently dead at the time of the alleged crimes and another who has purportedly been in an Israeli prison since 1996, long before the crimes at the centre of the Egypt trial were alleged to have been carried out.
It’s not as though more evidence was needed to demonstrate the kangaroo nature of Egypt’s judiciary, but Saturday’s sentences provide just that.
For good measure, on Sunday, Egypt hanged six young men for an alleged attack on military policemen. According to Amnesty International, the trial of the six men was characterised by significant irregularities, including forced confession by torture and a lack of primary evidence.
According to both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, three of the six men could not have possibly committed the offense because they had already been in jail for three months when the alleged crime took place.
Saturday’s mass death sentence is the fourth such sentence since Spring 2014. In the first mass death sentence issued last March, more than 500 Egyptians were sentenced to death over the alleged killing of a single police officer.
At that two-day trial, the defense wasn’t even allowed to present evidence. Other mass death sentences issued and confirmed in 2014 and 2015 followed similar patterns of injustice. While they’ve been dishing out mass death sentences to Muslim Brotherhood supporters and others opposed to Egypt’s July 2013 military takeover, the court has been busy acquitting both police officers of murder charges and Mubarak regime figures of corruption charges.
These cases provide sufficient evidence that Egypt’s justice system, at present, is almost completely devoid of justice. The court’s recent history demonstrates its abhorrence for universally accepted judicial principles.
In contemporary Egypt, due process is often not granted, evidence is often not considered, and impartiality and independence are often not maintained. With good reason, international human rights groups have issued multiple scathing condemnations of both specific trials and the current state of Egypt’s justice system in general.
The charges against Morsi border on the absurd. On Saturday, he was convicted of organising a prison break in 2011. Morsi was arrested by the Mubarak regime near the start of Egypt’s 2011 revolution, which the Mubarak government tried (unsuccessfully) to frame as a Brotherhood takeover attempt. Morsi’s participation in anti-Mubarak protests didn’t constitute a crime and he was, in the first place, wrongfully imprisoned.
Morsi also faces separate charges for espionage. There doesn’t appear to be any credible evidence that Morsi did anything other than engage in political diplomacy…
As Amnesty International notes, Morsi “was held in administrative detention, under emergency powers and without a judicial detention order”.
Moreover, there is no evidence that Morsi and other Brotherhood figures organised a prison break. Rather, the prison appears to have been abandoned by police who, as has been documented, “disappeared” from their posts shortly after anti-Mubarak protests broke out. Context is important. The alleged prison break occurred during a nationwide security collapse.
Ironically, Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders phoned Al Jazeera moments after they said they found the prison doors open and no police officers in sight. In the dramatic phone call made from outside the main prison gate, Morsi is heard saying: “We will never run away.” Adding, “If there is an official in Egypt who wants to get in contact with us, we are here.”
He goes on to provide the prison’s name, street address and his precise location. When no one showed up at the prison, Morsi, and the other Brotherhood figures, left.
In a separate trial, Morsi was sentenced in April to 20 years in prison for “inciting violence”. The violence that Morsi is alleged to have incited in December 2012 was instigated by his opposition and aided by police, who, according to journalist Max Blumenthal, had abandoned both the presidential palace and their duty to protect Morsi from assassination attempts.
Violent protesters tossed firebombs at the Presidential Palace and smashed it with a crane, while police mostly watched on and Morsi was forced to escape out a back door. In this context, Blumenthal says, Muslim Brotherhood members showed up to protect both the Palace and Morsi. Some Brotherhood youth members likely carried out violence, but nearly all of those killed were Brotherhood members.
Evidence from inside the government suggests that Morsi was deeply opposed to any use of force against protesters. In any case, there is no evidence that Morsi ordered or incited violence. In April, Amnesty International called the trial a “sham” and a “travesty of justice”.
Morsi also faces separate charges for espionage. There doesn’t appear to be any credible evidence that Morsi did anything other than engage in political diplomacy – in his capacity as president – with foreign leaders that the Egyptian military happens to dislike.
The decisions against Morsi and also Sunday’s hangings must be seen within the military government’s policies of purging, cleansing, and eliminationism. Since July 3, 2013, the day the military coup was formally executed, Egypt’s state institutions have colluded to eliminate the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters from public life.
The government has engaged in mass killings, mass arrests, mass death sentences, and has banned the Brotherhood and (conveniently) labelled it a terrorist organisation. The government has also shut down all opposition television outlets, eliminated Brotherhood-operated charitable organisations, sacked Brotherhood judges, and issued legislation preventing individual Brotherhood members – even those not accused of crimes – from running for office as independent candidates.
The eliminationist campaign has enabled Egypt’s military to monopolise power and further entrench itself in Egyptian society. This will continue, until, perhaps, Egyptians once again protest against authoritarianism in large enough numbers to effect political change.
If that happens, and particularly in light of recorded leaks suggesting high-level tampering, some of the judges currently doling out mass death sentences could ultimately find themselves on the other side of the courtroom.
Mohamad Elmasry is an assistant professor in the Department of Communications at the University of North Alabama.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.