• Egypt appoints new justice minister
  • Activists have criticised the appointment of outspoken critic of Egypt’s Islamist community

Egypt has appointed a hardline critic of the Muslim Brotherhood as the new justice minister a week after former president Mohamed Mursi was sentenced to death.

Ahmed el-Zend, a former appeals court judge, is known to be an outspoken critic of Egypt’s Islamist community and in particular the Brotherhood.

Activists have criticised the move as Egypt’s judiciary comes under pressure from internal groups following a crackdown on liberal and Islamist dissent across the country.

On 16 May, an Egyptian court referred 122 out of 166 defendants, including Mursi, to the country’s grand mufti to consider death sentences against them over charges of jailbreak and espionage.

The verdict follows the leader of the Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, being sentenced to death in mid-April. Hundreds of other death sentences have been handed out to Brotherhood supporters since Mursi was removed in July 2013 following mass street protests against his rule.

Reigniting violence

Egypt enjoys the support of Saudi Arabia and the UAE in fighting the threat of violent extremism, and this has provided Al-Sisi with the confidence to step up a domestic campaign against terrorism. But there is a fear the court decision may reignite violence in the country’s major cities, which has seen a decline in recent months. Some analysts have described this as a dangerous move that will re-energise the ‘anti-coup movement’.

After securing $130bn-worth of investment pledges during the EEDC, Egypt must ensure it does everything it can to commit to the promise of stability.

International companies that have either never operated in the country or pulled out following the 2011 revolution have been optimistic about its resurgence. But there are some that remain apprehensive and fear a worsening security situation. With the latest turn of events, many will be relieved they have trodden cautiously.

Al-Sisi has not provided details of how he plans to achieve the social cohesion required for stability, and with no reconciliation strategy outlined, it is difficult to see how the Brotherhood will fit into Egyptian society. The verdict against Mursi illustrates an age old tactic that has been used against the group since its inception. But a zero-tolerance approach may backfire in a new Egypt.

The important test for Cairo will come next month, with the looming flashpoint of the 30 June anniversary. Read more.