In one of the largest mass death sentences handed down in recent history, Egypt looks to execute several hundred Muslim Brotherhood supporters. The verdict was handed down by an Egyptian court in the city of Minya. It was the first of two massive trials scheduled to deal with a number of supporters of former President Mohammed Morsi. This first group included a total of 545 defendants, only 153 of which were actually in Egyptian custody. The remaining defendants were tried “in absentia.” A total of 529 defendants were convicted and sentenced to death. The remaining sixteen were acquitted. A second trial of nearly 700 more Muslim Brotherhood supporters is scheduled to begin soon.
The defendants in this case were accused of assaulting citizens, destruction of property, and the death of two police officers in the city of Minya in southern Egypt. The trial itself took place over only two days and lawyers representing the accused argued that they were never even given an opportunity to present their side of the case. International observers quickly condemned the verdict, noting that this number of executions in a single case would surpass the use of the death penalty in many other countries over the course of an entire year.
There were also fears that this verdict is an indication that Egypt is becoming a military dictatorship. A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood said that this was an effort to extinguish any opposition to the military regime in Egypt. He called it a “threat” to the rest of the country to abide by the military regime or face a similar punishment. Professor of international relations Fawaz Gerges somewhat agreed, calling the verdict another stage in the battle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military government. The military is seeking to impose its “roadmap” to a civilian government over the objections of the Brotherhood. That is why Egypt seeks to execute several hundred Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
It remains to be seen whether the defendants in this case will ultimately face execution. As previously noted, only a handful of the defendants are actually in custody in Egypt. In addition, due to the unusual circumstances of the trial itself, appeals are to be expected. The senior religious authority in Egypt must also give its consent to the sentence and it is unknown what the decision of the spiritual body will be. It is unclear whether they might side with the Muslim Brotherhood supporters or throw their support behind the military. Finally even if the appeals are unsuccessful and the religious authority concurs, Egypt may have a difficult time carrying out the sentences due to international pressure. Human rights groups have already condemned the death sentences and it is likely that they will bring more pressure to bear on Egypt should they go forward with the process.
Another potential factor in the case is the fate of former President Morsi. He is facing his own trial and his fate may ultimately play a role in that of his supporters as well. His predecessor Honsi Mubarak was put on trial by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government and convicted, but not sentenced to death for his crimes. Instead he was sentenced to life in prison and his case is currently under appeal. Morsi may find himself as another “pawn” in the power play between the Brotherhood and the Egyptian military. This confrontation is unlikely to relent any time soon as Egypt looks to execute several hundred Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
By Christopher V. Spencer