A Cairo Criminal Court sentenced 75 people to death on July 28, 2018, for various crimes associated with their clash with security forces during an “illegal” protest to the ousting of former President Mohamed Morsi.
The case must be referred to Egypt’s top Islamic legal official, Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam, for his non-binding approval as required by Egyptian law with regards to cases involving capital punishment. The mufti more often than not has agreed with the court’s ruling, although he has on occasion rejected and overturned the court.
In 2014, he opposed the execution of Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, whose sentence was commuted from death to life in prison. If the mufti approves the ruling, however, the defendants will still have the possibility of an appeal.
The 75 convicted Egyptians are among 739 defendants who stand accused of charges ranging from murder, to “incitement to break the law,” “membership of an illegal group,” “illegal gathering,” involvement in violence, and destruction of property, during bloody clashes with security forces on August 14, 2013. Meanwhile, not a single member of the security forces involved in the clashes has been held accountable for his actions, according to Al Jazeera.
On that day, security forces, under the command of then general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, raided two camps of protesters in Cairo. The larger of the two camps was in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square and the smaller one was at al-Nahda Square. Both camps were held by supporters of the recently deposed Morsi, who Sisi and his supporters had removed in a military coup the previous month.
After nearly six weeks of sit-in, authorities decided to disperse the crowds by force, leading to a bloody confrontation, now dubbed the Rabaa’ massacre. Human Rights Watch called the incident “one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history.” The organization estimates that at least 817 people were killed and almost 4,000 were injured.
Among the detained are several senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including prominent Islamist preachers Safwat Higazi and Wagdi Ghoneim. Award winning photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, to whom UNESCO awarded the World Press Freedom Prize in April, has also been imprisoned since 2013 for taking pictures during the military crackdown. He is still awaiting trial. The regime accuses him of twenty-four crimes, including supporting the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood. Amnesty International claims that the regime “has not presented any evidence that he was guilty of murder or any other violence,” as reported by Deutsche Welle English.
Of the 75 people convicted, 44 are currently being held in prison, and 31 were tried in absentia. The remainder of the accused are scheduled to be tried on September 8, and their sentences could range from life in prison to the death penalty. Amnesty International has called the trial “grossly unfair,” and a “parody of justice.” Najia Bounaim, Director of Campaigns in North Africa at Amnesty International, stated that the trial “casts a dark shadow over the integrity of Egypt’s entire system of justice and makes a mockery of due process.”
The Sisi regime has carried out an unprecedented crackdown on dissent since the president was installed in 2014, and the government’s hardline stance against opposition appears to be intensifying. Civil and human rights organizations have documented an increased number of arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and cases of torture.
In September 2017, Human Rights Watch published a report, “We do unreasonable things here: torture and national security in al-Sisi’s Egypt,” describing in detail Egyptian security forces’ use of torture to force confessions from suspected opponents. Reporters Without Borders (RFS) found in May 2018 that Egyptian authorities had detained no less than 35 journalists and bloggers, most of whose trials are pending. The recent conviction of pro-Morsi supporters is one more manifestation of the regime’s desperate clamp down on dissent.