Sisi of Egypt still has a blank check in response to the suppression of the Middle East
On June 14, two weeks before the eighth anniversary of the coup against President Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian court confirmed the death sentence for 12 supporters of the late President. The human rights community was not surprised by this decision. Since the overthrow of Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, on July 3, 2013, General Sisi has ruled Egypt with an iron fist in an attempt to eradicate any form of opposition.
The events of 2013 caused more than 1,000 deaths, tens of thousands of people were imprisoned, and many people were forced to disappear and tortured. Since the coup, the Justice Committee of the Geneva-based human rights organization has also recorded the cases of 92 political prisoners executed in Egypt. The death sentence of another 64 people upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeal and approved by el-Sisi can be executed at any time.
The confirmation of the 12 death sentences was the culmination of one of the most absurd trials in Egyptian history, which involved the brutal dispersal of the Muslim Brotherhood’s sit-in in Rabaa al-Adaweya Square in Cairo after the coup. The Egyptian authorities did not prosecute the security forces. They carried out what Human Rights Watch described as “the largest single-day killing of demonstrators in the world in modern history.” Instead, they put the sit-in leader under trial. Many people who survived the Holocaust were sentenced to prison on conditions equivalent to premeditated murder. Some of them have already died in prison, including Morsi himself.
The intelligence agencies have been preparing public opinion for possible actions against the leaders of the Rabbah sit-in. In addition to media campaigns to demonize anti-coup demonstrations, a TV series broadcast in Ramadan portrays demonstrators as terrorists while exempting security forces from any responsibility for the massacre.
Despite repeated condemnations by human rights groups, el-Sisi does not appear to be threatened by any potential international opposition to the execution. In fact, he currently seems to be at the peak of domestic and regional power.
During Donald Trump’s presidency of the United States, Sisi felt the courage to advance his repressive policies. When Trump lost to Joe Biden in the US presidential election in November 2020, the Egyptian president tried to precede any criticism of the new US administration by seemingly changing the human rights approach. In December 2020, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that the government is formulating a “National Human Rights Strategy.” The media then began to speculate about the imminent release of political prisoners.
Sisi even took steps to normalize relations with Qatar. After he joined Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain in 2017 to block the country, the normalization of Qatar relations was undermined.
In May, when Israel launched its latest attack on Gaza, Sisi seized the opportunity with an unprecedented pragmatic attitude and became an important mediator of peace and a defender of Western interests. He facilitated the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, for which he was widely praised in the West.
At the same time, he continued to reposition himself by slowly moving away from Abu Dhabi. His relations with Qatar improved so much that his Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri upheld the death sentence while talking to Al Jazeera in Doha.
On the other hand, in the face of the regime’s diplomatic offensive in the region, the opponents of the regime-the Muslim Brotherhood-gradually lost their political positions and embarked on a retreat.
With the active support of the judiciary, the domestic crackdown successfully quelled all the objections in Egypt. Since the assassination of Attorney General Hisham Barakat in 2015, the regime has deliberately placed the judicial system in a secondary position and weaponized it against its opponents.
Egyptian courts have legalized the pretrial imprisonment of tens of thousands of people over the years, sentenced them to death, and enabled the state to confiscate the assets of successful businessmen. In 2015, the decision to approve Sisi’s transfer of two strategic islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia even violated national interests.
Facing little criticism from the West, and feeling more confident at home and in the region, el-Sisi did not feel pressure to stop his brutal campaign against the opposition.
Therefore, it is unlikely that he will not approve the death penalty or reduce it to life imprisonment.
Execution is more likely because there is no sign that the West or the entire international community will react violently. Alternatively, Sisi may approve the death penalty but postpone it indefinitely in order to use it as a bargaining chip with foreign opponents, or to prevent external pressure on human rights or democratic transition.
The international community’s silence on Sisi’s gradual elimination of the opposition is in stark contrast to the recent events in The Hague, where the Serb military leader Ratko Mladic, known as the “Bosnian Butcher,” Sentenced to life imprisonment. Both Mladic and Sisi are serial killers, but one’s career is over, while the other is at large.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.