Mass death penalty makes mockery of Egypt’s judiciary


Egyptian policemen standing guard outside the courthouse in Minya during the trial of some 683 Islamists on March 25, 2014. AFP/Getty Images

That Egypt’s judiciary is politicised is nothing new. Usually, though, at least it goes through the motions of a trial, allowing some form of defence and taking its time in issuing controversial verdicts.

A court in the southern city of Minya, however, has dispensed with all formality, opting instead for an absurd and outrageous miscarriage of justice. On Monday, it delivered the biggest mass death penalty in the country’s modern history, sentencing 529 Muslim Brotherhood followers to death for an August attack on a police station, in which the deputy police chief was killed. The defendants’ lawyers were not allowed into the proceedings – which lasted a mere two days.

The same court on Tuesday opened the trial of a further 683 defendants, including the top leader of the Brotherhood. It would not be surprising if they too get the death sentence.

You might think that Egyptians are rising up in outrage. Weren’t justice and the rule of law main demands in the 2011 revolution? Not this time, it appears.

So demonised is the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood – thanks in part to claims of terrorism by the regime and hysteria in the local media – that tolerance for repression is alarmingly high. In fact, an “I support the court’s decision” hashtag has been active on Twitter since Monday.

That the riot that broke out in Minya in August was in reaction to security forces’ attack on the Brotherhood protest camp in Cairo, where hundreds of people were killed, also seems irrelevant. Incidentally, no one has been sentenced, let alone tried, for those killings.

It is likely that many of the Minya verdicts will be reversed on appeal. But that will not erase the damage. The court has dealt another blow to the image of the judiciary as well as to the military authorities in charge of Egypt today. Worse yet, there are now fears that it will provoke fresh violence in Minya.