Egypt has become one massive kangaroo court for Islamist opponents of the Al-Sisi regime. The security repercussions of such systematic repression and injustice may potentially lead the shortening of the life span of a regime struggling to maintain a security hold on a nation increasingly plagued by terror attacks.
In a rational dynamic of politically and legally violent oppression begetting violence, mere hours after a death sentence to Egypt’s ex-president Mohamed Morsi, four officers of the court and a driver were killed and two injured respectively in Al-Arish, Sinai. As the scene spirals out of control, we must look to comprehend the incomprehensible. In stating the obvious to many, Amnesty International called today’s verdict “a charade“.
But unless Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has lost his political marbles, ex-president Mohamed Morsi will likely never see a hang man’s noose. Nonetheless, verdicts today condemning the former president and 104 others to death and another labeling the ultras as a terrorist organisation are the latest punch to the gut to freedom in Egypt. But discussing today’s verdicts with the necessary bluntness is a risk. There are laws that ban critique of judicial verdicts and this has a stultifying effect on deconstruction of the current scene; with that in mind,mere analysis can be a dangerous thing.
Only in the Egyptian legal sphere can you be killed twice. To truly raise these verdicts to the height of comedy, the Egyptian judiciary sentenced to death, in today’s Wadi El-Natrun case, a man, Hossam el Sana, who died three years prior to the outset of revolution. Other than Morsi, those on the receiving end of the Egyptian judicial guillotine, were Yusuf Al-Qaradawi a Muslim scholar, Emad Shahin a US residing Egyptian political scientist, a former IkhwanWeb organiser and several dead and Israeli imprisoned Palestinians.
For Al-Sisi, the execution of Morsi would be tantamount to political suicide. Put simply, executing Morsi now would present the Muslim Brotherhood with the kiss of life. The regime while, arguably, blinded and having attacked systematically political Islam recognises that execution of such a verdict could potentially present a tipping point that strengthens those it seeks to weaken.
In the light of highly suspicious prison breakouts that many believe were ordered by the Mubarak regime in its final days to bring to fruition Mubarak’s threat ‘Chaos or me’, today’s verdicts are nothing short of embarrassing for a once grand Egyptian judiciary. ‘There is not one single piece of paper in our computer databases to indicate that president Morsi was a prisoner in Wadi El-Natrun prison said, at the time, minister of interior Mohamed Ibrahim. Couple that with the fact that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have pointed out a consistent paucity of legal fact to back up politicised verdicts and a dark picture grows legally and politically moribund. Indeed, several weeks ago, the trial completed today was deemed ‘badly flawed’ by Human Rights Watch.
But the miscalculations by president Al-Sisi, who wields a politicised judiciary as an authoritarian hammer, extend outside the realm of political Islam to cover all dissident voices. Just this very week, in a critical report by state security that Al-Shorouk newspaper was able to partially peruse, activists on social media were called worse than ‘black terror’. The report makes it clear the groups such 6 April and the Revolutionary Socialists and a wide scope of public personalities all, along with various NGOs, are all potential recruits for external forces seeking to destabilise Egypt. Such language in the past has been a harbinger of even more severe crackdowns on liberties, both far and wide. The report insists on a state narrative that argues that ill-timed ‘political and human rights demands’ will have a debilitating effect on the nation state. But it escapes those who control the levers of power in the Egyptian zeitgeist that this exclusionary rhetoric is at the core of increasing instability the current regime claims to fight.
No less crucially, both the executive and judicial arms of Egyptian government appear to have blinders on regarding the security repercussions of this seemingly endless stream of death sentences. Only days after the Economist warned of ‘more upheaval unless Sisi loosens his grip,’ the prediction came true. Today, hours after death sentences for 105, terrorism struck down three prosecutors, one judge and a driver in Al-Arish, North Sinai. Contrast this highly dangerous and successful attack by extremists with a speech earlier this week by president Al-Sisi where he claimed that the month of April, alone, witnessed major strides against terrorism in Sinai. ‘’Six hundred terrorists were arrested in April alone… 62 individuals, upon their arrest, were found to have 122 explosive devices.’’ If these figures are credible, one must question what are the true figures of terrorists operating in Sinai are? Bifocally, one must question if the state understands the linear relationship between state repression and extremist violence.
The attack comes on the heels of an attempted assassination of a judge in Cairo which resulted in the explosion of several cars. Violence has rattled the Egyptian Judges association which called for an urgent conference a mere two hours after the Al-Arish attack. In an even more worrisome sign the Ministry of Justice, on the same day as the assassination of the judges, decided to move North Sinai court to Ismailia.
On the opposing political flank the, now politically defunct, Freedom and Justice party, political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, exploded in a vitriolic response to today’s verdict against Morsi and many of its leaders. ‘’The party will not stand with its arms tied vis-a-vis this dangerous development. The coup regime will pay a hefty price, revenge is coming and criminals will not escape punishment’’.Shortly after that press release, there was yet another machine gun attack in Sheikh Zuweid, North Sinai that left none injured but was reflective of the action reaction dichotomy of questionable verdicts further destabilising a troubled domestic scene. From a strictly utilitarian angle, one must wonder about the rationale employed by a regime that came to power on a security platform but whose decisions, legal and otherwise, engender an environment of bullets and explosions.
The timing of all this is puzzling to say the very least. There have been rampant press reports questioning Al-Sisi’s alleged successes, including Ibrahim Issa TV talk show host, among his most ardent supporters, who summarised his talk when he retorted ‘’the government is not doing its job’’. In fact, Issa went on to question the astronomical figure 1 million acres that Al-Sisi himself quoted as saying had been developed. Yet it is against this backdrop that the endless execution of the Muslim Brotherhood continues unabated. Such is the current Egyptian divide that pro-Sisi Egyptian social media ignore increasing instability amid systematic repression and instead loudly trumpet the, so called, courage of a leader doing what must be done.
If as a reader you find the puzzle to be confounding be certain that you are not alone. These days Egypt is an ice cream cone made of judicial bullets and sprinkled with insecurity.
Rather than bring the sure footed steps of the law to the party the regime has, unabashedly, used the judiciary as a weapon of political destruction. Continue down this path and the regime will continue to hemorrhage domestic support and face increasing foreign pressure.
So long as denial is the regime lingua franca solutions for Egyptian insecurity will continue to be as scarce as a rose in the desert.
Amr Khalifa is freelance journalist and commentator