Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1251, (18 - 24 June 2015)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1251, (18 - 24 June 2015)

Ahram Weekly

‘No room for leniency’

Al-Ahram Weekly

ON TUESDAY a Cairo Criminal Court confirmed the death sentence handed to Mohamed Morsi in the Wadi Natroun jailbreak case, reports Amany Maged. Shaaban Al-Shami, leader of the panel of three judges, issued the ruling after receiving the non-binding opinion of the Grand Mufti. The Mufti must be consulted in all cases involving capital punishment.

"The court panel unanimously agrees there is no room for leniency or grounds for mercy towards the defendants," said Al-Shami. He added that the Mufti had sanctioned the death sentences for crimes of haraba, an Islamic term for banditry and waging war against God and society.

Al-Shami also confirmed the death sentences passed against five other leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including Mohamed Badie, the group’s supreme guide, and Saad Al-Katatni, head of its short-lived political party. A further 21 defendants received life sentences. The 93 defendants in the case sentenced to death in absentia will automatically be retried once they are in custody.

The defendants had been accused of "damaging and setting fire to prison buildings", "murder", "attempted murder", "looting prison weapons depots" and "releasing prisoners" as they escaped from prison outside Cairo during the January 2011 uprising.

The prison break, said Al-Shami, had been aided and abetted by the Palestinian Hamas movement, Lebanon's Hizbullah and militant groups based in Sinai.

Earlier the same day Al-Shami ruled in a separate case, popularly dubbed the espionage trial, sentencing Morsi to life in prison for conspiring with foreign groups, including Hamas. Both sentences can be appealed.

Al-Shami also confirmed death sentences against 16 other Islamists in the espionage case. They include Muslim Brotherhood Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat Al-Shater, and Mohamed Al-Beltagui. The remaining 13 defendants were tried in absentia.

Following the rulings defence lawyer Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maqsoud issued a press statement saying the defence team would draft appeals to both the espionage and prison break verdicts. They have 60 days from the date of sentencing to file an appeal.

As the sentences were read out Muslim Brotherhood supporters began to issue calls for civil disobedience.

Reactions to the sentences varied. Mohamed Abul Goud, secretary general of the Congress Party in Minya, said they were expected. The harshest penalties were necessary, he said, to act as a deterrent to those who seek to kill Egyptians and engage in espionage to undermine security and stability.

Hossam Ghita, a member of the political bureau of the Tamarod (rebel) Movement, said the rulings would give “comfort to all Egyptians who rebelled against Muslim Brotherhood rule, and to the families of those who sacrificed their lives for their country.”  

Essam Al-Gahlan, secretary-general of the Egyptian Democratic Party in Beni Sweif, hailed the verdict as a “landmark in the history of the Egyptian judiciary which has impressed the world with its impartiality, integrity and honour.”

The rulings, said Al-Gahlan, “usher in a new phase in Egypt, and sound the death knell for the odious symbols of a terrorist organisation.”

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu condemned the sentences. They pose a test for western nations, he said, “and we shall see what they will do”.

 Some commentators warned that the Muslim Brotherhood will seek to use the sentences to stir trouble and fuel public anger.

Mohamed Bakr, an expert on Islamist movements, thinks it likely the sentences will be reduced on appeal. Once initial reactions to Tuesday's rulings subside he anticipates a phase of continued tug-of-war as the Muslim Brotherhood and the state engage in brinksmanship. Negotiations to promote some form of reconciliation are still on the cards, says Bakr, pointing to the recent initiative by Tunisia's Ennahda leader, Rached Al-Ghannouchi, raised during a recent visit to Saudi Arabia.

Several analysts argue that the domestic challenges Egypt faces, from the economy to terrorism, make it essential some form of reconciliation between the state and the Muslim Brotherhood comes to pass. They also point to the external challenges facing Cairo, not least the fact many western capitals continue to regard Morsi as Egypt's first freely elected president.

With judicial avenues still open through the court of appeals, the prospect of mediated negotiations and the continued spectre of terrorist crimes stalking the land, it would be foolish for anyone to assume Tuesday's verdicts mark an end to the story.

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