Commentary

Morsi on Death Row

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi finds himself under increasing pressure to commute the death sentence passed on his predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, by the Egyptian courts. Some observers believe that sparing the erstwhile Muslim Brotherhood leader could save Egypt from yet another period of instability and, perhaps, bloodshed. The question of Mr. Morsi’s fate is part of a larger debate taking place about the nature of Sisi’s rule, with many expressing concern over what they consider the use of the judiciary as a political weapon.

This concern is especially evident in a recent op-ed by Daily News Egypt’s Amr Khalifa, who believes that Sisi’s actions have turned  Egypt into “one massive kangaroo court for Islamist opponents of the Al-Sisi regime. The security repercussions of such systematic repression and injustice may potentially lead the shortening of the life span of a regime struggling to maintain a security hold on a nation increasingly plagued by terror attacks....unless Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has lost his political marbles, ex-president Mohamed Morsi will likely never see a hang man’s noose. Nonetheless, verdicts today condemning the former president and 104 others to death and another labeling the ultras as a terrorist organization are the latest punch to the gut to freedom in Egypt....Rather than bring the sure footed steps of the law to the party the regime has, unabashedly, used the judiciary as a weapon of political destruction. Continue down this path and the regime will continue to hemorrhage domestic support and face increasing foreign pressure.”

Judging from the Egyptian government’s actions, it certainly does not seem like there is much appetite for internal dissension or opposition to the regime. Given the negative coverage that football (soccer) “ultras” have received both domestically and internationally, it is perhaps not surprising that the Egyptian government has decided to move to outlaw them. However, James Dorsey sees a more sinister motive for banning the ultras, believing the government has acted in “a bid to break the backbone of anti-government protests. The ruling pushes further underground groups that often offer despairing youth a rare opportunity to vent their pent-up anger and frustration peacefully....Anti-Sisi protests in universities have largely been suppressed, with security forces taking control of campuses, but ultras still play a key role in flash demonstrations on Fridays in popular neighborhoods of Egyptian cities....They were the shock troops of the popular revolt that toppled Mubarak in 2011 and played a key role in protests against the military government in the first 17 months after the president’s fall.”

Subsequently, some have called for the international community to put pressure on the Egyptian regime, but much to the frustration of Daily Sabah’s Merve Sebnem Oruc and others, the United States has increased cooperation with regime instead of putting pressure on it: “Since the military coup, the justice practices in Egypt have been throwing up red flags, and no one cares....in the meantime, the U.S. has decided to restore military assistance to Egypt, which was withdrawn after the military coup. Barack Obama last week informed el-Sissi that he would lift an executive hold on the delivery of aircraft, missiles and tank kits. The U.S. president also pledged to request from Congress $1.3 billion in annual military assistance for Egypt being again a disappointment on the U.S.'s concerns for human rights in Egypt. As we all remember, according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the Egyptian military was ‘restoring democracy’ when the army staged a coup. Among all the death penalties, it seems like the U.S. is now restoring its military assistance to the coup state proving that the ‘democracy’ they have been looking for is one hell of a democracy.”

But in an op-ed for the Hurriyet Daily News, Murat Yetkin warns that both the United States and the European Union member states should consider the long term impact of supporting Sisi’s heavy handed rule less they be faced with yet another strategic miscalculation in the Middle East: “The death sentence given to Egypt’s toppled former president on May 16 is not only wrong, but also likely to make everything in the Middle East even worse....It is obvious that what has been happening in Egypt is not independent of what has been happening in the greater Middle East for some time, also part of the greater picture of nuclear talks with Iran and Washington’s outreach to Tehran, partly to decrease pressure on Israel. It is no coincidence that Morsi’s steps for reconciliation with Iran made Saudi Arabia uncomfortable, which was one of the motivating forces behind el-Sisi’s toppling of him. To turn a blind eye to the wrongdoings of Egypt could be in the interests of the U.S. and the EU today, but in the long run it might turn into another nightmare - as in the cases of Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria.”

Avoiding a nightmare scenario is also the reason why Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, writing for Asharq Alawsat, argues in favor of commuting Mr. Morsi’s death sentence: “The rulings have entangled all the organization’s leaders because they failed to keep an eye of what was happening around them; they got involved in the battle and became easy targets. This member believes that due to the absence of its leadership on the ground, certain governments that are currently ‘at war’ with Egypt have attempted to take advantage and make use of the group’s cause in the media and on political and military fronts. Consequently, there is now little chance for reconciliation or lenient sentences. No one wants to witness bloodshed in Sinai or in Cairo, regardless of the final verdict. However, it seems that the situation will inevitably become inflamed in the country if President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi doesn’t interfere and grant amnesty to the Brotherhood’s leaders and members—a move which falls within his constitutional remit as president.”

After all, despite its most recent setback, neither the current Egyptian regime nor the international community should write off the Muslim Brotherhood, since, as Al Ahram’s Mahmoud Khalil suggests, the organization is likely to bounce back again, as it has many time before: “If the Muslim Brotherhood organization sustained painful blows in the course of its conflict with the ruling authorities in Egypt, the most debilitating occurred when the very idea that the Muslim Brotherhood was based on was shattered. The idea was encapsulated in the organization’s oft-cited campaign slogan, “Islam is the solution,” and it was put to the practical test during president Mohamed Morsi’s year in office, and failed.... [W]e must...acknowledge that the Muslim Brotherhood organization in Egypt survived several traumatic setbacks in its history since 1928....I do not believe that a single year in power is sufficient to dispel an idea that has taken root over many decades. It may have encountered some formidable resistance, but the negative realities experienced in some Arab societies have often lent it support and granted it a degree of resilience and durability.”


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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.