By Amanda Paul
May 19, 2015
Just over three years ago, Mohammed Morsi was the first democratically elected president of Egypt. A few days ago he was sentenced to death, along with more than 100 others, for his role in a mass prison break in 2011. Clearly, the charges are bogus and this sentence should be condemned by the international community.
Morsi was elected in June 2012. However, the euphoria of the “new Egypt,” President Morsi, his Muslim Brotherhood (MB) government and the hope that a new era of democracy and prosperity was about to be ushered in did not last long. A year to the day after Morsi's inauguration, an estimated 15 million Egyptians filled streets across the country calling for Morsi's departure. They claimed Morsi was making policies aimed at turning Egypt into an Islamic regime like Iran.
While Morsi admitted that he had made a mistake, wanted to fix it, promising to call for a national dialogue, it was too late. Too many Egyptians believed they had been betrayed and had no confidence in Morsi and the MB. A window of opportunity had opened for the military and they climbed in. Morsi was toppled via a coup led by then-Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, today's president. Such an ending gave a very wrong message to Egyptian and all other Arab societies: that democratic rule through free elections was not for them.
Today Gen. Sisi runs the country with an iron fist. While many Egyptians admit that Sisi is a worse dictator than Hosni Mubarak ever was, the majority -- at least for the time being -- accept it, being more interested in having money back in their pockets rather than feeling over-concerned about human rights violations. The months of instability as a consequence of the revolution and the counter-revolution cost Egypt a lot -- not least economically.
Retired Egyptian Ambassador Mohamed Fathy Elshazly spoke at the think tank where I work in March. He claimed that the MB has not been marginalized in Egypt since Sisi took over. According to him, nothing is preventing the MB from re-entering the political stage. Unfortunately, this view does not reflect the reality on the ground. From day one of his rule, Sisi cracked down on the MB. Many have fled abroad -- in particular to Turkey and the UK -- and hundreds of others have been jailed or sentenced to death.
With the MB now labeled a terrorist organization, the Egyptian authorities are apparently not going to leave a single stone unturned to eradicate them. Hence there was little likelihood that Morsi would have anything else than the worst possible of endings. The only possible chance he may have of not being executed will be is if the West and other partners of Egypt, such as Russia, put enough pressure on the Egyptian authorities. If execution goes ahead, Morsi will probably be portrayed as a martyr, which is likely to have serious repercussions not only in Egypt but around the entire Middle East.
Having consistently supported Morsi and the MB, it came as no surprise that the strongest criticism has come from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who called the verdict a return to “ancient Egypt.” Turkey plans to take the issue to the UN. As for the US and EU, unfortunately their approach was not as robust as Erdoğan's. The statement from the US State Department was a clichéd “deeply concerned.”
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini called on “the Egyptian judicial authorities to have the responsibility to ensure, in line with international standards, defendants' rights to a fair trial and proper and independent investigation. As the EU, we are confident the sentence will be revised during the appeal process.”
I would imagine the chances of the sentence being revised are slim, but not impossible. Much will depend on what Egypt believes will be the consequences if they go ahead. Hence, it is up to the West that in such an eventuality the response will not simply be another wishy-washy statement but serious consequences. The fact that Egypt is a relatively stable state in the region, supporting Western efforts in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and playing a useful role in the Middle East peace process should not mean the West stands by and allows Morsi and others to be executed.