Minya executions signal Egyptian Courts’ adherence to regime

Mesrob Kassemdjian April 4, 2014 1
Minya executions signal Egyptian Courts’ adherence to regime

Mesrob Kassemdjian considers the adverse effects of the Egyptian state’s hostility to the Muslim Brotherhood.

On Monday 24 March, the Egyptian Criminal Court for the Minya municipality sentenced 529 members of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to death. The defendants were on trial for charges related to the murder of a single police officer, as well as vandalism of public property: the latter of which does not carry a death penalty in Egypt. The verdict is incompatible with the international standards of human rights law and is a violation of the Egyptian state’s obligations under international law.

The brutal verdict is unlikely to be carried out due to widespread condemnation of the court by domestic and international actors. These include local human rights and advocacy groups as well as international non-governmental organisations and foreign governments. The USA has threatened to continue to suspend its critical aid program, worth approximately 1.5 Billion USD a year, to the Egyptian state.

The brutal verdict is unlikely to be carried out due to widespread condemnation of the court by domestic and international actors.

Such a symbolic verdict signals the state’s intention to liquidate the MB as a feature of Egyptian politics. The judiciary has revealed itself to be a mere component of the military-backed state apparatus.  The court’s action can be understood as an exercise in regime security, by attempting to eliminate all opponents of the military-backed government in order to consolidate power amongst the regimes co-opted elites. Regime security arrests the development of democratic institutions and typically places the interests and security of the regime above the interest and progress of the nation as a whole.

The military-backed regime and MB have already articulated alternative models of their ideal state, based on incompatible world views, and have publicly expressed their unwillingness to compromise with one another. The execution of MB leaders would only lead to their replacement by more radically-inclined figures from within the organisation. Radicalisation could potentially fragment the organisation. Fringe and break-away elements may take up a violent struggle against the state. The fragmentation of a structured organisation into differentiated competing groups, all with various aims and modus operandi, complicates negotiations and risks a protracted crisis.

In Algeria 1992, domestic Islamic parties won a free and fair election only to have the military intervene and call the election null and void. This triggered a civil war which raged on for almost a decade. A similar situation could transpire in Egypt due to the immense frustration felt by the Brotherhood after years of patient non-violent struggle. Moreover, Egypt’s porous borders facilitate the proliferation of advanced weaponry, originating from the Libya and Mali conflicts, being circulated amongst violent sub-state actors already operating within the Sinai Peninsula.

Egypt’s porous borders facilitate the proliferation of advanced weaponry.

General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s military intervention into Egyptian civil politics, effectively a coup, ousting the newly elected Morsi government, reversed the hard-earned democratic gains of the popular social movement which removed the Mubarak regime. In addition, the General’s desire to stand for president, a post which he is widely expected to win, due to his support within the army and control over the levers of state power, is a flagrant disregarding of the nation’s democratic choice. It makes a farce of Egyptian democracy.

If the executions are implemented or utilised as a precedent for further judgements which are irreconcilable with International Human Rights Law, Egypt would demonstrate its judiciary is either unable or unwilling to conduct a fair and impartial trial in relation to political opponents of the military backed regime. In this case,  for justice to be served to the victims of violence in Minya, as well as upheld to internationally accepted norms and standards, defendants should be tried within a specifically constructed ad-hoc international criminal tribunal, the likes of which are becoming more and more common within the international system.

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