Imagine that 500 or 600 people had been condemned to death in America or any European country for simply being members of, or feeling sympathy toward, a political party. Anyone can imagine the kind of public reaction such a decision would provoke and the huge demonstrations that would take place across the world. It would probably not take long for that particular decision to be retracted.
So what happens when the same thing happens in a Middle Eastern country? How does the world react?
We are speaking of Egypt, one of the most important countries in the Middle East. The country is remembered for the recent coup and the accompanying executions for sometime now. As is known to all, numerous anti-regime protests broke out following the army’s seizure of power on July 2013; many people were detained during these protests on the grounds of ‘involvement in violence’ or ‘staging unlawful protests.’ In the days that followed, many of those detained were sentenced to death, life imprisonment or various other punishments.
In the events that followed the coup, 1,400 people died and 15,000 were imprisoned. The Muslim Brotherhood, one of the oldest and largest organizations in the country, dating back 85 years, was declared a terrorist organization by the Egyptian government. The Brotherhood, the oldest, largest and most influential Islamic movement in the Arabic world, was alleged to be responsible for the attacks in the country that had recently increased.
Last April, the court handed down death sentences to 528 people, in two sessions lasting a mere 20 minutes. Shortly after, the same court and judge sentenced an additional 683 people to death. At present, prosecutions, detentions and trials against opponents of the coup are continuing .
The Egyptian security forces most recently detained Bishr, former Minister of Local Development and a leader of the Brotherhood who conducted the negotiations with the coup regime. Another prosecutor, on the other hand, demanded the death penalty for the former President Mohammed Morsi on the pretext of ‘leaking information to Iranian Intelligence.’
In addition to President Morsi, who was overthrown by the coup, those sentenced to death include ministers, party officials, heads of civil society organizations, women, young girls and even children.
Detainees are being brought to court in cages. Everyone knows they are subjected to torture and moreover, that suspicious deaths take place in prison.
Although to a lesser extent than before, condemnations of these practices in Egypt are continuing across the world and efforts are being made to inform the world public. But these efforts are still not enough. For example, anti-coup demonstrations are still continuing in Egypt despite bans on such activities. Most recently, more than 19,000 opponents of the coup reported that they were starting a hunger strike in 76 prisons to make their voices heard outside and announce their opposition to the coup.
Morsi requested the right to address the court where he was on trial, to ‘say things that people were unaware of,’ but the court refused to allow Morsi to speak.
So what must be done in Egypt from now on? What path must be followed and how can the problems be resolved?
First and foremost, what needs to be done in Egypt is for the death penalty to be abolished and a fair judicial system to be instituted. The death penalty not only conflicts with Islamic moral values, but also with individual and societal conscience. No such practice appears in the verses of the Qur’an.
The death penalty is, quite bluntly, ‘irreversible,’ and allows the person no opportunity to regret having made a mistake and repent and correct himself. In particular, implementing the death penalty in countries where legal standards are low, the judicial process is far from objective and democratic traditions and institutions are weak can give rise to outcomes that cannot be put right.
The humanitarian conscience must be set in motion in regard to death sentences intended as political penalties and as a deterrent to others. Not only do weak reactions fail to prevent such practices, they can also lead, as in Egypt, to the easy taking of further such decisions.
Of course, the death penalties are not the only problem in Egypt. In addition to these death penalties, it has been covered in the press that 69 people, nine of whom are below 18 years old, have been sentenced to one to twenty-five years’ imprisonment in trials of opponents of the coup.
In addition, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, the leader of the Strong Egypt Party and a former presidential candidate, is facing trial on charges of ‘betraying the nation.’ It has been stated that Aboul Fotouh may be tried in a military court, if the court agrees to hear the case.
The name of Egypt must no longer be remembered in connection with the silencing of all opposition, mass slaughter and executions: It must cease being a country where young girls are held in cages and spent their lives in prison, where children are imprisoned and where opponents of the regime are ruthlessly persecuted. The existence of an opposition in a country is a great beauty; having different ideas gives the country a more durable structure. It adds dynamism to the administration and is instrumental in reaching correct decisions. From that perspective, what is needed in Egypt is to immediately replace the current unilateral regime with political pluralism, to include people from different segments of society in the government and, most important of all, to stop avoiding negotiating with the anti-coup opposition.
If General Sisi wishes to remain as President (which he says he has dreamed of for 30 years) and to build peace in his country, he must immediately abolish the death penalty and must continue his struggle in a legal and political framework rather than employing terror tactics. These things can be easily resolved in a country such as Egypt, where the president has the power to pardon all crimes.
Bearing in mind that the situation in the country is worsening, where economic troubles and continuing clashes rock the country, there is clearly an urgent need for a fundamental change. The most important stage in that change is of course the urgent implementation of policies that will open the door to freedoms.
No political regime can expect everyone in the country to think like it or its every policy to be approved of. An administration that acts out of that way of thinking will be soulless, cold, inward-looking and, most important of all, will result in a society consisting of angry and discontented individuals. Problems will continue to grow in leaps and bounds in a society made up of unhappy and restless individuals. Everyone knows that no country caught up in a spiral of violence can ever prosper.
It is possible to build an Egypt in which children are not held as political prisoners, where people do not protest on the streets every day, where there is no conflict, and where the internal dynamics are sound.
Being an Egypt where people can live in beautiful houses, in parks and other peaceful places - rather than in prisons - will also play an important role in ensuring economic regeneration. A stable Egypt will also have positive effects on the Arab world, and rapid steps can then be taken towards normalization at the regional level.