by Yusuf Dhia-Allah (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 50, No. 5, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1442)
With General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s silence over issuing presidential pardons to 12 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, their executions may be carried out at any moment. Families of the political figures on death row say they are living in anguish and fear since Egypt’s Court of Cessations—the highest court of appeals—upheld their sentences on June 14.
Under Egypt’s criminal procedure code, the president has 14 days following the court ruling to pardon the defendants or commute their death sentence. Sisi’s silence regarding the verdicts has increased the families’ anguish. Instead, he went on a three-day visit to Iraq starting June 28, signalling that he does not intend to issue pardons or commute the sentences.
Sanaa Abdelgawad, wife of former member of parliament Mohamed el-Beltagy, said in a statement from Turkey where she and her family have taken refuge, “We are in constant fear.” Kept in isolation in a tiny cell, Beltagy has not been allowed visits by family or lawyers for more than five years. “After the death penalty is upheld, the execution can take place at any moment,” Sanaa Abdelgawad said.
The 12 men facing the death penalty are: Abdel-Rahman el-Bar, Mohamed el-Beltagy, Safwat Hegazy, Osama Yassin, Ahmed Aref, Ihab Wagdy, Muhammad Abd al-Hayy, Mustafa al-Farmawi, Ahmed Farouk, Haitham al-Arabi, Muhammad Zanati, and Abd al-Azim Ibrahim. Some were ministers in President Mohamed Morsi’s cabinet; others were elected members of parliament.
What precisely was their ‘crime’ that has led to death sentences against them? They were leading figures in the uprising that drove long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak from power in February 2011. While the dictator was ousted, the Egyptian military continued to wield effective power. To assuage public anger, it promised to hold elections.
These were held more than a year later and while the Muslim Brotherhood did not participate directly, candidates backed by it won a majority in parliament. Mohamed Morsi won the April 2012 presidential elections. He went out of his way to accommodate the military but the thugs in uniform were not satisfied. He appointed Sisi as army chief and vowed to not interfere in military affairs. That, however, was not enough for the gangsters who wanted unfettered powers and would not tolerate an independent-minded civilian occupying the presidency.
Thoroughly corrupt, the Egyptian military is a huge business enterprise. A recent report revealed it has a slush fund running into billions of dollars for which it is not accountable to anyone.
The men on death row had organized peaceful protests and sit-ins when Morsi, the first democratically elected president in Egypt’s history, was deposed in a military coup in July 2013. Sisi, however, was not prepared to tolerate even peaceful sit-ins held at two locations in Cairo: Rabaa al-Adawiya Square and Nahda Square. He unleashed the military and slaughtered thousands of people among them women and children. Beltagy’s 17-year-old daughter was among those killed. When people sought refuge in Rab‘aa mosque, the thugs in uniform went after them killing them inside the mosque as well.
Human Rights Watch described the military-perpetrated murders as the “worst single-day killing of protesters in modern history”. Official figures admitted to 800 people killed in a few hours but Muslim Brotherhood put the death toll at more than 2,600. The military regime had posted snipers on rooftops to shoot people in the streets.
Far from charging the criminals for mass murder, the regime put the victims on trial. Most of the defendants had lost family members—sons, daughters, wives, mothers—in the regime perpetrated slaughter. Even the victims’ funerals were attacked.
The trial of 739 persons, accused of participating in the 2013 Rab‘aa Square sit-in was launched in December 2015,. The June 14, 2021 verdict was the end of the so-called legal procedure, a farce that did not meet even the minimum standards of justice. Judges in Egypt, as indeed in many other parts of the Middle East, do not deliver justice. They simply carry out the orders of their political (or in this case, military) bosses. After all, if the judges had acted according to law, charges against the 12 should have been thrown out, rather than handing them death sentences. They were the victims of regime brutality.
Even the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, was held in appalling conditions. He was denied medication in prison. When he appeared in court in June 2019, he collapsed inside the cage he was held in (prisoners are held in cages like animals, in Egypt). Neither court officials nor the regime’s security personnel offered him any medical help, accusing him of faking it. He died inside the cage during the court session. UN experts said the conditions in which Morsi had been imprisoned may have directly led to his death, amounting to a "state-sanctioned killing".
The death sentences have led to an international outcry with rights groups leading the way. Human Rights Watch described the sentences as “a mockery of justice”, while Amnesty International said they were “a stain on the reputation of Egypt’s highest appeals court and cast a dark shadow over the country’s entire justice system”. Even some US senators have joined the campaign to have the executions halted.
Whether any of these would lead to ending such barbaric practices by the brutes in uniform is yet to be seen. As the situation stands today, there is little hope for optimism. If executed, these men will join a long list of other martyrs. Their reward will be with Allah but the Egyptian military will have added another dark chapter to its gory record as mass murderers and thugs.