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The Death Sentence on Former President Morsi

K. P. Fabian retired from the Indian Foreign Service in 2000, when he was ambassador to Italy and PR to UN. His book Commonsense on War on Iraq was published in 2003.
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  • May 25, 2015

    On May 16, Judge Shaban al-Shami of the Cairo Court of Appeals passed the death sentence on Mohammed Morsi and 121 others including Mohammed Badie, Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, which latter the Egyptian Government has tried hard to exterminate since the coup of July 3, 2013.

    The charges against Morsi need to be critically examined. He has been charged with “collaborating with foreign militants from Gaza, taking advantage of the turmoil, to orchestrate a mass prison outbreak, looting of weapons, murder and attempted murder of police officers, torching of government buildings, and kidnapping of police officers and detaining them in Gaza Strip”.

    In plain English: when the January 25 Revolution commenced, Mubarak’s Government threw into prison a number of Egyptians including some leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. Three days later, Morsi and some others walked out. We do not know the precise circumstances surrounding their liberation. They might have overpowered the jail staff. They might have bribed them. Whatever it may be, since they were imprisoned without reason, when a revolution takes place or appears to take place it is perfectly in order for the wrongly imprisoned people to walk out of jail. The prosecution has argued, apparently without any convincing evidence, that some Hamas militants from the Gaza Strip came to Egypt, overpowered the jail staff and freed Morsi and others. If that is correct, there might be a case against the Hamas militants. But, they are not in Egyptian custody. The plan therefore is to implicate Morsi, however flimsy the charges are and however unproven the flimsy charges are.

    The Egyptian system requires that the matter goes to the Grand Mufti for his opinion on the death sentence. Thereafter, the judge gives his verdict, ignoring or taking into account the Mufti’s opinion. The matter will come up before the judge on June 2, after the Mufti has spoken. On that day, the judge might pronounce on another set of charges against Morsi: “conspiring with Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran's Revolutionary Guards, to commit terrorist acts in Egypt, to destabilize the country; disclosing state secrets to foreign countries; funding terrorism; and conducting military training to serve an international branch of the Brotherhood.”

    For outside observers, it is difficult to believe that Morsi as President was engaged in selling Egypt for money or for the benefit of the Muslim Brotherhood. However, I was personally told by a certain number of Egyptians when I visited Cairo last month that Morsi was seriously negotiating the sale of the Suez Canal to Qatar. Yet another story, believed in by some, was that Morsi was secretly negotiating with Israel for some exchange of territories as part of finding a permanent home for the Palestinians. What is striking is that there was no anger against Israel, all the anger has been directed against Morsi. With the media, by and large, owned or controlled by the government, it is amazing to see the success of propaganda in brainwashing ordinary citizens.

    Upon hearing the judge’s sentence, Morsi raised his fists defiantly from the cage he was confined to. It seems that it is a standard operational practice in Egypt to have the persons under trial caged so that he cannot communicate except by gestures. The Brotherhood and the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL) have responded sharply and condemned the sentence, rejecting the principle of trying an “elected president.” The NASL added that Egypt’s current government should face charges of espionage for sacrificing “Egypt's security and wealth for the sake of the Zionist enemy”. There was another statement from the Brotherhood calling for revenge. The Egyptian social media have carried a number of reactions critical of the death sentence, contrasting the rather mild treatment meted out to Mubarak, a contrast that exposes the travesty of justice.

    Turning to the reaction of the West and the Rest: The US has reacted with measured restraint, fully realizing that its ability to influence Cairo has considerably diminished after the 2013 coup. America had a good equation with Morsi who was fully convinced that it would prevent any move to unseat him by the Egyptian Army. For the US State Department, the verdict was "unjust and undermines confidence in the rule of law.” For the European Union’s High Representative, Federica Mogherini, the verdict was “not in line with Egypt's obligations under international law.” She added: “We are confident the sentence will be revised during the appeal process.” Finding fault with the West’s rather mild reaction, Turkey has announced that it would consult with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other GCC countries to bring up the matter at the UN Human Rights Council. The President of the German Parliament has announced his refusal to meet with Egypt’s President Sisi who is due to visit Germany in June. China, so far, perhaps, the only country, has come to Egypt’s support by arguing that there should be no foreign interference in Egypt’s internal matters.

    We do not know whether Morsi will be executed. Egypt has carried out six executions since Morsi fell. It is believed that two of those executed were in the custody of the state when they were supposed to have acted to kill security forces, the crime for which the death sentence was given. If President Sisi goes to Germany, the media will ask him pointed questions about the verdict. He might respond that he as President is unwilling to interfere with the judiciary that enjoys total freedom in Egypt. It is unlikely that his interlocutors will be convinced by such an argument.
    There are indications that Saudi Arabia has asked Sisi to change his policy of extermination of the Brotherhood since there is an urgent need for Sunnis to forge a united front against Iran. While it is foolhardy to predict the future which is kaleidoscopic at times, a possible scenario may be that Sisi pardons Morsi by converting the death sentence to life imprisonment and thereby enhances his reputation for statesmanship. He may or may not succeed in raising his reputation.

    Ambassador K. P. Fabian was recently in Egypt where he went to collect material for his book THE ARAB SPRING THAT WAS AND WASN’T, commissioned by the Indian Council of World Affairs.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India

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