from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

The Morsi Death Sentence

May 18, 2015

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An Egyptian court has sentenced Mohammed Morsi and about 100 others, including other Muslim Brotherhood leaders, to death. Carrying out those sentences would be a huge mistake.

The sentences have been denounced widely because Egyptian courts these days are not independent, nor do they follow what we would call due process. Those are good enough reasons for eschewing the death penalty. So is the fact that he was the democratically elected president of Egypt.

But I would suggest another reason: once the blood starts flowing, it will not stop. During the Mubarak years critics and opponents of his regime were certainly not treated fairly, but neither were they simply executed. That’s why the Muslim Brotherhood leadership were alive and living in Egypt, rather than dead or in exile, when Mubarak was overthrown. Indeed the MB had 88 seats in parliament. Perhaps President Sisi views all that as a mistake, and certainly the MB’s abuse of power when in office--the conduct that led to the coup that ousted them--was always likely to lead to harsher treatment of them and to their exclusion from politics for a long time.

But not to executions. Politics has not been a blood sport in Egypt and there was widespread horror at the assassination of President Sadat. If Sisi starts killing MB leaders, none of whom are I think plausibly linked to terrorism, he will be changing the rules of the game. The chances that some embittered young man will try to kill Sisi himself go up a great deal. More broadly, the level of bitterness and hatred will rise instantly and permanently.

My surmise is that none of these sentences will in fact be carried out, because there will be pressure on Sisi and the Army to step back and because some of them may realize what a consequential mistake executions would be. But they do plenty of harm by having these sentences pronounced, and few supporters of the MB will feel grateful if and when some higher power commutes them to life in prison.

Today Sisi is making the mistake of attempting to crush all political life in Egypt. That in itself is a formula for a political explosion somewhere down the road. If he adds to this the introduction of judicial killings, he will really be sowing the wind.

More on:

Egypt

Human Rights

Politics and Government

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