On March 24, Egypt reached another depth of political melodrama when a court sentenced over 500 people to death for their role in the routine confrontation that has characterized the country after its first democratically elected president, Mr. Mohamed Mursi was toppled in a military coup last year. The sentencing to death of 529 persons who were tried and convicted for the alleged murder of security personnel has sent shock waves across the world. The mass death sentences have been rightly described as state sponsored mass murder. We hope, as does the rest of the civilized global community that the death sentences would never be carried out. We are, however, befuddled at how a leading and pivotal nation in the Arab world whose voice carries a lot of respect could descend to a worrying outpost of political come-tragedy.
Before the news could get properly digested of the ridiculous sentencing, the strongman of the military regime, whose presidential ambition has been a matter of intense speculation, made his very well known intention public. Field Marshal Al-Fateh Sisi, few days ago, announced his retirement from the army to be a candidate in the next presidential election few months away. It may be that should he win, one of his first actions in office would be to grant state pardon to most of the convicts. However, we feel that if such is the intention of the elaborate death sentences handed down it would be a political gamble taken too far.
For the avoidance of doubt, we do not condone the wanton destruction of lives and property, including security personnel. But we wonder how over 500 persons, most of them certainly supporters of deposed President Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood could have been charged with and convicted for the intermittent mayhem that Egypt has witnessed since after the coup. After all, all the leading figures in the Muslim Brotherhood including its spiritual leader have long been put behind bars. We see the legal and political processes that led to the mass convictions as part and parcel of the continuous crackdown on the opposition. We have once editorialized on this page, that Egypt badly needed political and social stability after the Arab Spring revolution that ended the corrupt and dictatorial Mubarak regime in 2011. Continued turmoil will not do the country any good.
The country needs a political framework that allows for accommodation and consensus that will build up to national reconciliation. A legal vendetta against opponents in the form of these scandalous and embarrassing mass death sentences would only deepen the country’s fault lines. Egypt is already in international media spotlight for the wrong reasons. The regime is holding five international journalists that work for the Qatar-based Aljazeera cable television network, apart from scores of local journalists in custody. It accuses them of belonging to a banned organization, a ridiculous charge that only the regime’s henchmen accept. We believe that the Muslim Brotherhood and their government squandered a political life-time opportunity when they busied themselves with imposing hegemonic rule diffusing rather than solving the everyday existential problems of Egyptians.
Having been booted out of power, the more they sulk and orchestrate street mayhem, the longer their political sabbatical would likely be. Having been legally dismantled by the military backed regime, the Brotherhood should return to clandestine political activism, an art it perfected in the over half a century it was in political limbo. The Muslim Brotherhood may yet have its day under the political sun. But we urge it to sheath the sword, and the regime to de-escalate its excesses like the unbelievable mass death sentences of last week.