Process of ‘restoring democracy' in Egypt is done

Published 16.06.2015 21:05
Updated 16.06.2015 22:36
Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi
Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi

The death sentence handed to Egypt's first democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi, along with senior Muslim Brotherhood members, has been confirmed. After Morsi and his government were toppled, the coup administration is now on the brink of hanging them. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had called the coup ‘restoring democracy'

An Egyptian court on Tuesday confirmed the life sentence and death sentence that was handed down last month to Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president. Morsi, along with 105 other defendants, was given a life sentence for spying for foreign powers and was given a death sentence for a mass prison break during the incidents in 2011 that ousted former autocratic President Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for 30 years. The ruling was read out by judge Shaaban al-Shami after he consulted with Egypt's mufti, a religious authority affiliated with the judiciary, as required by law in cases involving capital punishment. "The court panel has unanimously agreed that there is no room for leniency or mercy for the defendants," Shami, who presides over a panel of three, said before confirming the death sentence. "Shami said the defendants conspired and attempted to kill police officers when they broke into three of Egypt's prisons, enabling some 20,000 inmates to flee, causing chaos in Egypt and breaching its borders with the Gaza Strip. He said they did so with the help of foreign militants from the Palestinian Hamas movement, Lebanon's Hezbollah and militants in the Sinai Peninsula.

Another 21 imprisoned defendants received life sentences in the case, which in Egypt is equivalent to 25 years in prison. Another 93 defendants were tried in absentia and sentenced to death," the Associated Press reported. Senior Muslim Brotherhood figures including Khairat el-Shater, Mohamed el-Beltagy and Ahmed Abdelaty and Islamic scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi were also given death sentences. While reading the court decision Shami described Hamas as the armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, but did not elaborate what kind of organic relation existed between the two groups except sharing a similar ideology. Morsi was toppled after a bloody military coup in July 2013 headed by the incumbent President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. While Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia eagerly supported the coup, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described it as "restoring democracy" in Egypt.

The court also claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood had relations with al-Qaida-inspired extremist groups in the Sinai as well as Lebanon-based Hezbollah, but skipped the fact that the groups are almost at war with each other.

Over the jail break, the court claimed that Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood members unlawfully left the prison. But in a telephone interview conducted with Morsi by Al-Jazeera in 2011, the ousted president said that he and other Muslim Brotherhood members had not left the prison despite the fact that many were fleeing. In the interview, Morsi claimed that he and others waited for permission from the officials.

The fairness of the trial of Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood members was suspicious as many defendants said they were not allowed by the court to defend themselves. Even the lawyers were banned from reaching their clients. In an interview with Daily Sabah, Morsi's lawyer Rodney Dixon two weeks said: "It wasn't a fair trial, it wasn't independent. There has been interference from the political authorities. We've got evidence of that, proof of that. The trial has not guaranteed his rights to fair legal representation and to present a defense," and voiced his concern about that the decision would not be in line with justice.

The sentence seems to bring the so-called Egyptian revolution to an end as Sissi has started ruling the country in a way indistinguishable from former autocratic leaders such as Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Mubarak. The prisons are full of dissidents, regardless of ideology, and it has become impossible to criticize Sissi's policies publicly.

The Gulf eagerly supported the coup

Saudi Arabia and other tiny Gulf countries remained silent as they did before over mass human right violations in Egypt under the rule of the coup leader and the current President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi as the countries had supported the coup through pledging billions of dollars aid. The Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia was afraid of a similar popular uprising in their own countries that may bring their dynasties to an end and replace with a moderate Islamist government like the Muslim Brotherhood of which Morsi was member.

After Mohammed Morsi was ousted, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) made mass economic aid to Egypt. UAE gave $6 billion and more than Dh22 billion in cash and interest-free loans to guarantee fuel supplies and fund projects in health care, education, food, housing and transport. Last year the UAE contractor Arabtec began talks with the Egyptian officials to build a million low-cost homes, one of Egypt's most pressing needs. Egypt in our Hearts, a campaign established by Emirates Red Crescent in mid-July 2013 on the orders of the President, Sheikh Khalifa, has provided aid in the form of food, medicines and educational assistance to thousands of needy Egyptians. Last December, UAE also approved that 78 health centers, 25 grain silos, railway crossings, 1,488 housing units and hundreds of schools will be built in a few years. The project coordination office for UAE development projects has begun a campaign that aims to train at least 100.000 Egyptians to have a job. According to office, 25.000 Egyptians have been trained so far and 10.000 of them have found job.

Although el-Sissi claims to better Egypt's economy through increasing alliance with his supporters from the Gulf, his presidency is controversial since the coup, he headed, was marked as one of Egypt's bloodiest period. Morsi was accused of deteriorating the Egyptian economy, aiding Hamas, spying for certain countries and polarizing society. People who were against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood went to the streets at the end of June to protest the Islamist government. After the protests started, the army sided with the protesters and gave an ultimatum to Morsi that said he had to resign in two days. Morsi stressed the fact that he was elected and only another election could remove him. The army did accept Morsi's argument of being elected. While the tension escalated in Cairo among different factions and the army, the people on the streets also expressed different demands. The sit-in protests to show solidarity with Morsi started even before the anti-Morsi protests. Despite the support of the masses the army overthrew Morsi and his cabinet, violating the constitution and universal democratic values.

Morsi and many other prominent political figures that were also either members of the Muslim Brotherhood or related to it were arrested. Pro-Morsi and pro-democracy protesters did not leave the streets. They chanted slogans against Sissi and the coup. Sissi claimed that the protesters were threating national security while making a call to his supporters to go to Tahrir Square. Sissi finally gave the order to clear Rabaa Square and at least 817 demonstrators were killed by Egyptian security forces. Also thousands of people were arrested and tortured.

Gulf countries except Qatar have eagerly supported Sissi as they considered Muslim Brotherhood rule as a threat to their dynasty.

Qatar had backed Morsi along with Turkey, had been the only country that opposed the coup and el-Sissi's rule. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain had withdrawn their ambassadors from Qatar last March due to Qatari support for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, which was labeled a terrorist group by the three Gulf countries and the military-backed Egyptian government. The three states agreed to return their diplomats last month, seeking to patch up the schism between the Arab world's wealthiest countries, which has ramifications across the region, and was a signal of reconciliation among the countries.

On January, Qatari and Egyptian officials made steps toward solving the political crisis between the two countries that emerged after the coup. The court decision seems to be a fruit of the reconciliation process. There were a few reasons that caused the eruption of the political crisis. Firstly, Qatar had been supporting the Muslim Brotherhood by accommodating some of its members in Doha because they would have been tried and executed in Egypt if they returned. Secondly, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a prominent Doha-based Islamic scholar, who was supported by the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi, denounced the Saudi-backed el-Sissi rule through targeting the king of Saudi Arabia directly. Saudi Arabia's struggles resulted in the release of a warning of arrest for Qaradawi by Interpol. Thirdly, oil-rich Qatar, which has entered several economic sectors, attempted to isolate itself from the economic benefits of the Gulf region under the leadership of Saudi Arabia. Fourthly, except for Turkey, no other international or local actor in the region, like the U.S., Israel and Jordan, sided with Morsi or challenged the coup. A tiny country, Qatar faced opposition due to its policy on Egypt, especially from the other Gulf countries. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain had withdrawn their ambassadors from Qatar last March due to Qatari support for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, which was labeled a terrorist group by the three Gulf countries and the military-backed Egyptian government.

How Egypt's path to democracy was blocked

The dream of a democratic Egypt started after former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine ben Ali was deposed from his post after a popular uprising as millions of Egyptians also gathered in Tahrir Square (Liberation Square) in Cairo. People were determined to end the decades-long autocracy in one of the wealthiest but at the same time poorest and most corrupt countries in the region. Islamists, leftists, conservatives and almost every political faction were on the streets as well as ordinary people who were demanding a better future for themselves and their children. When Mubarak was ousted, Egyptians had one of the most joyful days in their history.

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood were also chanting slogans for a brighter future. The Muslim Brotherhood was the largest political movement in Egypt and was delivering aid, social services and education facilities across the country with a moderate Islamist ideology, seeking to end poverty, impoverishment, foreign intervention, unemployment, social problems and corruption. Since the first day of its establishment in 1928 by Hasan al-Benna, who was killed in 1949, the group never resorted to violence but preferred to remain in legal politics and separated itself from radical groups that adopted the Salafi/Wahhabi understanding of Islam like al-Qaeda. The Muslim Brotherhood was familiar with politics as it was struggling to grab seats in parliament in the Mubarak era. The group entered parliamentary elections and presidential elections. The popularity, reliability and fact-based words brought Muslim Brotherhood-supported Mohammed Morsi to power after receiving more than 50 percent of the votes. Morsi became the first democratically elected president of the country.

Egypt was on its way to becoming a democratic country where the president and members of the parliament were elected freely. However, Morsi's rule did not last long, and Gulf-supported el-Sissi changed the game and the fate of Egypt.

On July 2011, before Morsi's election and the bloody military coup happened, I visited Egypt to meet several political parties, non-governmental organizations, academics, journalists and think tanks. There was nobody who was not hopeful, and there was nobody, including Muslim Brotherhood members, who were expecting a coup by the military in the coming years. However, Morsi was not welcomed by the U.S., Israel or oil-rich Gulf countries. El-Sissi, who was serving as the Chief of Armed Forces, enjoyed the unconditional support of the Gulf and silence of the world powers, including the EU, the U.S. and Russia while ousting Morsi. Turkey was the only country that rejected el-Sissi rule.

Another nail in the coffin for democracy, FJP says

The Muslim Brotherhood-linked Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) issued a statement, condemning the verdicts and the silence of the democratic Western countries and the international community. "In July 2013, General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sissi led a military coup that plunged Egypt back into its darkest past, with the tacit support of numerous Western countries. Since then, more than 1,500 men and women have been sentenced to death in unfair and dubious trials, last of which is the sentence issued against President Morsi and his supporters. The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) deplores this highly tragic politicized decision, which demonstrates that the highest religious and judiciary bodies of Egypt are willing to join the current regime in willfully ignoring the fundamental principles justice and most basic human rights," the statement said. The statement called the sentence death of democracy and said "Today's announcement is another nail in the coffin for democracy in Egypt. It is a culmination of almost two years of an erosion of human rights in the country since the military coup: more than 40,000 political dissents are in jail, thousands of protestors have been killed, journalists are incarcerated, torture and rape are used daily as a weapon against political prisoners."

Amr Darrag, a former Minister of ousted President Mohammad Morsi said that "We call the international community to realize how grossly wrong it is to support such a bloody regime, for obvious human rights' sakes and for the whole feverish region's future. We call the international community to do anything in its power to stop this cruel dictatorship to further destroy Egypt. We call the international community and the media to face the human rights' reality of this country." Another former minister in the era of Morsi, Yehia Hamed said that "We are determined to free our country from this oppressive dictatorship. All civil and peaceful means will be used but the international community must stop swallowing Sissi's propaganda. We are extremely concerned that this repression - and today's sentences - will lead some people to renounce non-violent protest. We reject all violent means of protest: our movement is a democratic one, and we will never deviate from this code. However, Sissi is forcing many within Egypt to believe violence is the only way to counter his regime, and this in turn strengthens the hand of ISIS and other extremist militant groups. The international community must react now."

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