Suppression and mass trials in Egypt fulfil critics’ worst predictions following last year’s military coup

The cult-like status of Field Marshal Sisi smacks of a return to strongman politics

Share

It has been a busy week for Egyptian justice – or, rather, for the flagrant mockery of it. On Monday, a court sentenced no fewer than 529 members of the Muslim Brotherhood to death for the killing of a policeman in the aftermath of the ousting of Mohamed Morsi last July. Yesterday, another 682 supporters of the now-banned Islamist group stood trial at the same court – including its leader, Mohamed Badie – this time for charges connected with an attack on a police station, also during the post-coup riots.

There are so many absurdities in Monday’s verdict, the only difficulty is where to begin. Not only is two days insufficient time to make a case against one defendant, let alone more than 500; only 120 of those charged were actually present for the trial, the rest being variously released, on bail, or on the run. What with the inherent preposterousness of several hundred people being held responsible for a single murder, the whole risible business looks like nothing so much as a “show trial” – a fact that does not change even if the sentences are commuted, as is expected.

Now, the stage is set for a repeat performance. Only 60 of the 600-plus defendants in the second trial were in court yesterday, defence lawyers boycotted the session over procedural violations, and there is little reason to believe that either the protestations of liberal Egyptians or the vocal concerns of the international community will have much bearing.

All of which only adds to the sense that Egypt is teetering on the brink of losing all that might have been gained from the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011. This is no defence of Mr Morsi. Egypt’s first democratically elected president swiftly squandered the opportunity to make a difference, showing an alarming inclination to Islamicise the state and signally failing to get to grips with the structural problems causing ordinary Egyptians such hardship (and salting their annoyance at their political leaders). But even so poor a performance is nothing compared with what followed after the army toppled Mr Morsi, shot dead more than 1,000 people in the ensuing unrest, and cracked down on dissent with a lack of restraint sadly reminiscent of the Mubarak regime. Some 16,000 people have been arrested – not just swathes of Islamists but unaffiliated activists and journalists, too.

The outlook for Egypt thus darkens. Although elections are imminent, the as-yet-undeclared Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi – already Egypt’s unofficial ruler – is expected to sweep the board. Furthermore, his increasingly cult-like status smacks disturbingly of a return to the strongman politics to which many hoped that the Arab Spring had put paid.

And yet, it is still better that Field Marshal Sisi stands – and even wins – than that he does not. So powerful an éminence grise will do Egypt no favours, and there is a good chance that his being forced to take responsibility for Egypt’s myriad economic problems may take some of the shine off his security-first rhetoric.

These are slim comforts, however, next to the spectacle of what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights lambasted this week as “cursory mass trials”. It was perhaps never realistic to expect Egypt to go from autocracy to democracy in a single, smooth bound. But it is now more evident than ever how far there is to go.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Russian President Vladimir Putin 'hits his foes where it hurts'  

Dominic Raab: If Western politicians’ vested interests protect Putin, take punishment out of their hands

Dominic Raab
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform