In the latest event to rock the tumultuous post-Morsi Egypt, 683 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were sentenced to death in one the largest mass trials in recent memory. Among those sentenced to death was Mohamed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual guide and prominent figure. If executed Badie will be the first front-leading member of the Brotherhood to be sentenced and executed since 1966 when leading member Sayed Qutb was found guilty of conspiring the assassination of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. Qutb was hanged for his crime.
The sentence handed down by Judge Said Youssef is the verdict over a trial involving the widespread violence and killing of policemen across Egypt following former president Morsi’s removal in July of 2013. Following the military-initiated coup, Muslim Brotherhood members took to the streets demanding his reinstatement only to be met with tear gas and a violent crackdown from Egyptian forces. The Muslim Brotherhood responded likewise, sending Egypt into a chaotic period of political and economic instability. Morsi’s subsequent trial was regarded as a sham by Muslim Brotherhood members who view the Egyptian military as foes in their quest to be assimilated into Egyptian political life.
Morsi who was democratically elected following former president Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow during the Arab Spring of 2011, was a controversial figure, being not only the first publicly elected leader of Egypt, but also a member of the formerly banned Muslim Brotherhood. His initial calls for unity and peace following the despotic reign of western backed Mubarak were overshadowed by Morsi’s often authoritative actions, including limits on free speech and the press. Morsi’s rushed signing of the constitution and his power grab at executive authority were the last straw for many in Egypt, who feared a return of a Mubarak-style presidency. Morsi’s intentions were never made clear after his tenure as president was ended after only one short year in power.
The riots that followed Morsi’s ousting were sporadic and involved provocation from both the military and demonstrators. One incident that is being linked to this trial involves an incident in Cairo where Egyptian security forces “violently” broke up a sit-in. The news spread quickly and deadly riots exploded all over Egypt. Three policemen and one civilian were killed in the riots that took place in Minya.
Human rights organizations are condemning the ruling, saying that the proceedings did not allow the defendants to properly defend themselves and that the judge is politically motivated.
Observers of the situation say that the death sentence in post-Morsi Egypt of the 683 Muslim Brotherhood members is not the final verdict; a requirement under Egyptian law brings the case to Egypt’s top Islamic official, the Grand Mufti. Still human rights observers say that this is not any type of “solace” for the families of the defendants, and the continued erosion of the rule of law in Egypt is a great cause of concern.
International investors and countries have been pulling out of Egypt, saying that the degradation of Egypt’s political and economic system is too volatile to risk investment.
Despite the upheaval and continued decline in conditions, the Muslim Brotherhood has said they will continue their fight and vow to overthrow the government through protests.