Summary justice in Egypt


Egypt’s military regime has descended to a new low of summary justice and state terror with the threat of mass executions on an unparalled scale. The sentencing to death yesterday of 529 supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, represents the largest mass capital sentencings by a court not only in Egyptian history but in recent memory worldwide. They conjure up images of the mass civilian slaughter of genocidal campaigns in Rwanda, Cambodia, and of the Nazi era.

The trial in the strong Islamist centre of Minya, south of Cairo, had only the barest vestiges of judicial process – it lasted two sessions over three days and unconfirmed reports from defendants’ lawyers claimed they were denied even the right to present a defence. The accused, described by state media as Muslim Brotherhood members, were convicted of killing one police officer, of the attempted killing of a second, and of participating in rioting that destroyed a police station. Surprisingly 16 were acquitted, while the 529 are entitled to appeal where the hope is the verdicts may be overturned as many similar verdicts in the past have been. The trial of a second batch of 700 on related charges starts today.

But the sentences are a measure of the confidence of the military, increasingly ruling in the style and spirit of Hosni Mubarak, in the enduring public support even among secular democrats for the crackdown against the Brotherhood and the overthrow of Morsi last July. Since then at least 16,000 political dissidents have been arrested. International ambivalence at the derailing of the country’s democratic revolution has also been noted by the regime which is set to nominate for the forthcoming widely derided presidential election its leader Field Marshall Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the defence minister who led the July coup.

If the EU is prepared to respond with sanctions to the bloodless annexation of Crimea, consistency at least demands that |Egypt also pays a price for this outrageous verdict.