Sisi in Egypt still has a blank check for repression | Middle East

On June 14, just two weeks before the eighth anniversary of the coup against President Mohamed Morsi, an Egyptian court upheld the death sentences of 12 supporters of the former president. The decision came as no surprise to the human rights community. Since he overthrew Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, on July 3, 2013, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has ruled Egypt with an iron fist, trying to eradicate all forms of opposition.

More than 1,000 people were killed in the events of 2013, tens of thousands were imprisoned, many disappeared by force and were tortured. Since the coup, the Geneva-based human rights committee has also documented the cases of 92 political prisoners who were executed in Egypt. The death sentences of 64 others, which were upheld by the highest court of appeal and ratified by el-Sisi, could be carried out at any time.

The confirmation of the 12 death sentences is the culmination of one of the most grotesque trials in Egyptian history which focused on the brutal dispersal of the Muslim Brotherhood sit-in in Rabaa al-Adaweya Square in Cairo after the coup. Instead of prosecuting the security forces who carried out what Human Rights Watch described as “one of the world’s largest single-day killings of protesters in recent history,” Egyptian authorities brought them to justice. leaders of the sit-in. Many of those who survived the massacre were imprisoned in conditions amounting to premeditated murder and a number of them have already died in prison, including Morsi himself.

Intelligence agencies had for several months been preparing public opinion for a possible movement against the leaders of the Rabaa sit-in. In addition to a media campaign demonizing the anti-coup protests, a TV series aired during Ramadan portrayed the protesters as terrorists, while relieving the security forces of any responsibility for the massacre.

Despite repeated condemnations from human rights organizations, al-Sisi does not seem to feel threatened by a possible international backlash against the executions. In fact, he currently appears to be at the height of his power, both nationally and regionally.

During Donald Trump’s tenure as President of the United States, al-Sisi felt emboldened to continue his repressive policies. When Trump lost the US presidential election to Joe Biden in November 2020, the Egyptian president sought to anticipate any criticism of the new US administration by appearing to change course on human rights. In December 2020, the Foreign Ministry announced that the government was working on a “national human rights strategy”. The media then began to speculate on the imminent release of political prisoners.

El-Sisi even took steps towards normalizing relations with Qatar, which were damaged after joining Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to blockade the country in 2017.

In May, when Israel launched its final assault on Gaza, al-Sisi seized the opportunity with unprecedented pragmatism to emerge as an important mediator for peace and a defender of Western interests. He negotiated a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, for which he was widely hailed in the West.

During this time, it continued to reposition itself as it slowly moved away from Abu Dhabi. Its relations with Qatar have improved, as the death sentences were upheld while its foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, was in Doha, speaking to Al Jazeera.

In contrast, the regime’s opponents – the Muslim Brotherhood – have gradually lost political ground in the face of the regime’s diplomatic offensive in the region and are on the path to retreat.

Internal repression has succeeded in silencing all dissent in Egypt, with the active support of the judiciary. Since the assassination of Attorney General Hisham Barakat in 2015, the regime has deliberately subordinated and armed the justice system against its opponents.

Egyptian courts have legalized the pre-trial detention of tens of thousands of people for years, handed down death sentences and allowed the state to seize the assets of successful businessmen. In 2015, it even went against the national interest to approve al-Sisi’s decision to transfer two strategic islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia.

Faced with little criticism from the West and feeling more confident at home and in the region, el-Sisi does not feel compelled to stop his murderous campaign against the opposition.

Therefore, he is unlikely to refrain from ratifying death sentences or commuting them to life sentences.

The executions are more likely to take place, as there is no indication that there will be a backlash from the West or the international community as a whole. Alternatively, el-Sisi can ratify death sentences but postpone executions indefinitely in order to use them as bargaining chips with his opponents abroad, or in case external pressures on human rights or democratic transition arise. .

The silence of the international community on the progressive campaign to exterminate el-Sisi by the opposition contrasts sharply with the recent events in The Hague, where the life sentence of Serbian military leader Ratko Mladić, nicknamed the “Bosnian butcher Has been confirmed. Mladić and el-Sisi are both serial killers, but one’s career is over, while the other thrives with impunity.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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