Mursi sentence could drive deeper divisions in Egypt

22 April 2015

Twenty-year sentence highlights flaws in Egypt’s justice system

The sentencing of former Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi to 20 years in jail has the potential to deepen divisions in Egypt between those sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood and the rest of the population.

The democratically elected president was ousted from power in mid-2013 by the military, backed by widespread popular protests against the Mursi regime.

Egypt had grown tired of Mursi’s attempts to seize more power for himself and the brotherhood, as well as his failure to reignite economic growth in the country.

Following the events of July 2013, Mursi has been held in jail charged with his involvement in inciting deadly clashes around Cairo’s Federal Palace in December 2012.

The violence resulted in at least 10 deaths, according to Amnesty International.

The clashes had broken out between pro- and anti-Mursi supporters as a result of Mursi trying to strengthen his presidential powers by issuing a decree that prevented judges from hearing lawsuits against his decisions.

Mursi’s trial has been condemned as a “travesty of justice” by human rights organisation Amnesty International, and a demonstration of the major flaws in the ability of Egypt’s criminal justice system to deliver fair verdicts for members and supporters and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The organisation is calling for a retrial in a civilian court.

Mursi did however escape a possible death sentence, with authorities no doubt knowing that the death of Mursi would turn him into a martyr for the brotherhood and fuel greater tensions.

But just before Mursi’s sentencing, 22 pro-Mursi protesters were given death sentences for their role in an attack on a police station in 2013 which resulted in the death of a policeman.

This follows the issuing of hundreds of death sentences given to brotherhood supporters in recent months, with some not present in court and remaining on the run from authorities.

Even the leader of the brotherhood Mohamed Badie faces the death penalty.

These sentences coupled with Mursi’s 20-year stretch in prison will do little to persuade Egyptians and the rest of the world that Egypt’s judicial system is independent and impartial, rather than swayed in the favour of whatever government is currently in power.

Under the Mursi government, former president Hosni Mubarak sat in jail facing two sets of charges, related to the death of 240 protesters during the 2011 revolution and corruption.

Yet, under the current government led by President Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi, a judge dismissed the charges against Mubarak for his involvement in the deaths of protesters. Corruption charges were also dropped although a retrial did start earlier in 2015.

For many Egyptians, the release of Mubarak in 2014 and Mursi’s imprisonment will be seen as bringing to an end three years of political instability, economic turmoil and the unwanted growing influence of the brotherhood.

They are desperate to move on and get Egypt’s economy back on track.

But for others, namely the brotherhood supporters, the sentencing of Mursi will only deepen their grievances against the ruling powers.

Entrenched resentment among significant chunks of Egypt’s population does not bode well for Egypt’s long-term political and social stability.

The frequent occurrence of bomb attacks in both Cairo and areas such as North Sinai should already been sending warning signs to the Egyptian authorities.

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