Widespread condemnation of sentence, increased polarisation of Egypt
By INcontext Ministries — originally published in A World In Motion, Issue 124, 21 May, 2015
An Egyptian court has pronounced death sentences on ousted president Mohammed Morsi and more than 100 other people over a mass prison break in 2011. Morsi is already serving a 20-year prison term for ordering the arrest and torture of protesters while in power. Egypt’s religious authorities will now have to give their opinion before the sentence can be carried out. Morsi’s supporters from his Muslim Brotherhood movement have described the charges against him as “farcical”. He was deposed by the military in July 2013 following mass street protests against his rule. (BBC News)
The case against Morsi
During this most recent trial, prosecutors reported how Morsi escaped from a prison during the January 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that saw former president Hosni Mubarak overthrown by the wave of discontent and pro-democracy revolutions. Among the 100+ others sentenced during the same trial were Palestinian members of Hamas sentenced in absentia – prosecutors alleged that they had entered Egypt during the uprisings through illegal tunnels under the Gaza-Sinai border. It is believed that these militants broke into a number of prisons, including the one where Morsi was being held, and released a number of Muslim Brotherhood leaders as well as an estimated 20,000 inmates. TIME Magazine describes Hamas as “the Palestinian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood [that] enjoyed close relations with Morsi during his year in office”.
Also sentenced were Mohammed Badie, the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, as well as Qatar-based Youssef al-Qaradawi, one of the Arab world’s most well-known Islamic scholars.
In addition to the 20-year prison sentence handed down in April this year, Morsi is also implicated in a case concerning allegations that he and several aides endangered national security by passing state secrets to foreign groups including Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
The recent death sentence connected with the jailbreak has now been referred to the Grand Mufti, Egypt’s highest spiritual authority, who will consider the charges. His response and ratification, however, will be irrelevant – the charges may be appealed at the next hearing (scheduled for 2 June), or they may be upheld by the judge regardless of the Grand Mufti’s ruling.
Muslim Brotherhood response
Soon after the ruling, the Brotherhood issued a statement that condemned the sentence and called for escalated protests. A Brotherhood-led opposition alliance called for Egyptians to step up efforts to “topple the gang of treachery and usurpers” in the lead up to the two-year anniversary of Morsi’s ousting. However, the government’s tight security grip means that mass demonstrations are unlikely.
After Morsi was removed from power in July 2013, the Muslim Brotherhood was once again banned and classified as a terrorist group. Hundreds of Brotherhood supporters have been sentenced to death since a government crackdown on the Islamist organisation, but so far, only one of these sentences is believed to have been carried out.
Amr Darrag, a former minister who served in Morsi’s government, called the recent trial and sentencing “one of the darkest days” in Egypt’s history, and “a deeply disturbing attempt to permanently erase democracy and the democratic process in Egypt”.
In what is believed to be the first violence carried out in response to the ruling, three judges and their driver were gunned down by suspected Islamic militants in al-Arish, a city in the northern Sinai Peninsula.
Criticism of the sentencing was heard from the US and the EU, as well as from Turkey and Amnesty International. The Obama administration expressed “deep concern” about the practice of mass trials and sentences that “is inconsistent with Egypt’s international obligations and the rule of law”. Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the new government (under President al-Sisi) was returning to the “old Egypt”.
In response, Egypt’s justice ministry released the following statement: “The ministry stresses that comments by foreign countries concerning the judiciary decision has violated all international conventions which respect sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of another country.”
FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
Pointing to the ripple effects that the sentencing may have for Egypt internally, TIME Magazine writes that “the sentence will likely further polarise Egypt, a longtime US ally grappling with an Islamist insurgency that has intensified since Morsi’s overthrow”. And Egypt’s Christian population is likely to be affected by that polarisation, especially as they were seen to be standing with former military leader al-Sisi when Morsi was overthrown.
In response to the sentencing, the Coptic Catholic Bishop of Assiut issued a statement condemning the verdict. Christian Post writes that “despite the oppression and incitement of deadly crimes committed against Christians during [Morsi’s] rule… Anba Kyrillos William said that the Church does not compromise on defending life, which he called an ‘inviolable right’”.
In the wake of the 2013 uprising against the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, Christians were targeted and attacked across Egypt, with Christian churches, bookstores and orphanages being vandalised. In the aftermath of Morsi’s sentencing, the Church in Egypt will therefore once again be on high alert, and will need much prayer and support from the global Body of Christ at this time, as they attempt to respond with a different voice.
PRAY > For the protection of the Egyptian Church during this time of increased tension > For wisdom for leaders of the Egyptian Church > For Mohammed Morsi and all those facing death sentences, that God would work in their hearts