The inference from both events is clear. The army, which has run Egypt for most of the past 60 years, is back and will brook no further experiments in civilian democracy.
The fact that Sisi will take off his uniform and run as a civilian is mere window-dressing. He heads the ‘Army Party’ and will most likely return Egypt to the style of rule that existed through the regimes of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak.Sadly, this is likely to mean arbitrary arrests, imprisonments, ‘disappearances’ and torture, all of which characterised the regimes of the previous dictatorships, and certainly the mass death penalties suggest those days have already returned.
The sentences were handed down at the end of a two-day mass trial – the time frame itself makes a mockery of the country’s justice system – during which defendants were not told what their offences were, with many not even represented by a lawyer.Most had been arrested at demonstrations against the detention of Muslim Brotherhood officials and their leader, Mohamed Morsi, who until he was deposed last year in an army coup, was the country’s president. However, stories are emerging which suggests many were swept up simply because they were in the area at the time – including one man who was taking his daughter to hospital.
United Nations Human Rights Spokesman Rupert Colville described the arrests and subsequent trials as “rife with procedural irregularities” and “in breach of international human rights law”.Concerns are growing for the estimated several thousand people, including Morsi himself, who are currently in detention. They include, of course, Australian journalist Peter Greste and his two colleagues from the Al Jazeera network who have been charged with spreading false news and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood – charges they vehemently deny.
It remains to be seen whether the death sentences will be carried out anytime soon. There is an appeals process and the county’s spiritual head, the Grand Mufti, has to give final approval. Even so, it is likely the defendants will, at the very least, be facing months, if not years, behind bars.Many Egyptians care very little for these legal niceties. They see the short period of democratic rule by the Brotherhood as plunging the country into chaos and the military as restoring stability.
That fact that Egypt, the most populous and vibrant of Arab nations, a country that has produced outstanding philosophy, literature, science and art, should in the 21st century seem only to have the choice between Islamic fundamentalists and uniformed men in dark glasses as its leaders, is sad indeed.