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Egypt’s sham trials

Last week, the first democratically elected leader of Egypt since the Pharaohs’ time, Mohammed Morsi, ousted in a military coup the US wouldn’t call a coup was handed life sentence in addition to death penalty already given him in a separate case. The trial and the sentence, severely criticised by international human rights groups, unsurprisingly, drew no words of condemnation from Washington.

Morsi was being tried along with 35 others on espionage charges. But the military ruler, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who ousted the president, did not seem to know what to try him for. During the second hearing of the case, the prosecution accused him of leaking state secrets to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, and his co-defendants of being involved in a plot to destabilise their own country. Along the way, however, Sisi’s men realising the absurdity of their own claims, decided to charge the defendants with passing secret documents to Qatar, which had supported the Morsi government through its one-year rule. Why would the president hand state secrets to a friendly Muslim country with which he could align his policies? That did not look right. So in the end the president was acquitted of spying for Qatar but convicted of leading an illegal organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood. It did not matter if the ‘organisation’ was legal when elections were held in the wake of mass uprising- although illegal under the previous regimes and, of course, the present one. Six of his co-defendants, including two Al Jazeera journalists, have been sentenced to death. Luckily for the journalists, they had already made good their escape to safety somewhere else.

Countless Egyptians are facing worst persecution. Tens of thousands have been jailed. Most of them of course are Brotherhood supporters; there are many others too who have serious differences with the Brotherhood’s brand of politics but want the democratic process to move forward. Hundreds, including the Brotherhood supreme guide, Mohammed Badie, have been sentenced to death. Countless peaceful demonstrator demanding restoration of the president have been killed. In just one instance at a mosque sit-in in August 2013, according to the Human Rights Watch, a minimum of 817, more likely 1000, people were killed in “one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history.” Others put the number of dead at about 2,600.

But the murderous Sisi regime has had no worries about being shunned by the ‘leader of the free world’ and its regional allies. Following the coup Washington had acted disappointed, announcing only suspension of joint military exercises and withholding of some weapons supplies but continuing to provide the regime with $1.3 billion the US pays annually to Egyptian military to secure the separate peace agreement Anwar Sadat signed with Israel. And the then Saudi king Abdullah wasted no time to make a phone call to interim president Adly Mansour congratulating him for getting rid of Morsi. The UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait soon did the same.

President Morsi may have made mistakes but the military used the still-intact old power structure to engineer his overthrow. In this the generals had outside support. According to a report appearing in the Guardian, “leaked recordings of conversations between top generals suggest that the army, supported by the Gulf monarchies, may have helped to fund Tamarod, the grass-roots anti-Morsi campaign.”

So what is it that irked the Gulf monarchies, especially Saudi Arabia, the ultimate theocratic state, about a Sunni Islamist president? It is fear of both domestic and regional status quo getting disturbed. Before the Brotherhood victory in Egypt Islamist movements – the Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon- have been participating in democratic elections and winning too to go on to challenge the status quo. The change in the Arab world’s largest country could inspire their own people to rise and demand representative governments. And they surely did not like it when soon after taking over, president Morsi broke Israeli siege of Gaza by opening the Rafah border crossing, also sending in one of his ministers to show solidarity with the besieged Palestinians. He also engaged with Iran exchanging ambassadors after a 30-year break, and visited Tehran for the 2012 Non-Aligned Movement summit. All of this angered the Gulf monarchies, the US and its protégé, Israel. Small wonder then if these countries funded an anti-Morsi campaign.

While the elected president of Egypt and hundreds of his supporter are in prison under death sentence, thousands of others in jails, and a heavy crackdown on the Brotherhood supporters as well as liberal elements continues the ‘leader of the free World, the US, has started to openly back the military dictatorship. Secretary of State John Kerry recently visited Cairo to ‘resume’ the never broken strategic dialogue with Egypt, and of course to ensure the military regime of Washington’s unwavering support as long as it keeps its part of the bargain ie, to help preserve the region’s existing order and protect Israel’s interests.

Even though Egyptian judiciary, a holdover from the past, has banned the Muslim Brotherhood declaring it a terrorist organisation, it is not going to disappear. The movement has survived persecution under successive previous regimes. Over the years, it had changed its image from a radical Islamist movement to a moderate religious party. The reign of terror unleashed by the Sisi regime is radicalising its activists again. They can destabilise the country in ways that neither the protectors of the old order nor those pushing for democratic change would want to see.

Saida Fazal, "Egypt’s sham trials," Business Recorder. 2016-06-23.
Keywords: Political science , Human rights , Egyptian judiciary , Sisi regime , Secret service , Regional planning , Military campaigns , Palestinian Arabs , Liberals , Egypt , Israel , Palestine , America