There are currently many questions and much speculation as to whether or not the Egyptian regime will actually go through with the executions scheduled to take place on Tuesday. The death sentences were handed down by the Egyptian court to ousted President Mohamed Morsi and two other leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood. All of the questions doing the rounds of Egyptian society might be premature given that an analysis of the court’s provisions would take months before the sentences could be carried out.
An automatic appeal against any death sentence may, according to Egyptian law, require a retrial. If the sentence is upheld, it may be challenged anew in the Egyptian Court of Cassation, which is known for its strict implementation of the law and legal notions pertaining to the death penalty. However, if in this instance the court decides to annul the initial verdict in Morsi’s trial, the Egyptian president is given a window of fourteen days in which to make the decision as he sees fit. There is a similar example within living memory when Brotherhood leader Said Qutb was sentenced to death in 1966. At that time, many Arab and Islamic personalities intervened, including many intellectuals with who had strong relationships with President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Nevertheless, Nasser went ahead with the execution. This time, the sentences that have been issued against the Muslim Brotherhood members come at a time when the regional and Arab attitude is very divided on the matter. Morsi’s sentence was issued at a time that the security and economic situation in the region is complicated beyond explanation.
For a start, the Brotherhood tried to refer the verdict to the Grand Mufti two weeks ago in order to convince people to protest against the court’s decision. However, no protests have taken place. This has led many analysts to determine that this is a failure of the Brotherhood’s ability to mobilise its supporters. It has been argued that this is due to the level of state oppression and security measures that are being implemented to limit the number of protests that are taking place and dampen the people’s enthusiasm for pouring into the squares. The last few years in Egypt have proven that no matter how much security is tightened in Egypt, the government cannot prevent a mass protest from taking place, so we can only imagine the effect that this would have on protests that could take over the whole of Cairo. It must be noted here that even though these sentences were issued against members of the Muslim Brotherhood, there have not been any public protests against them.
Some Brotherhood figures have portrayed the implementation of the execution order as a done deal in order to inflame emotions and incite protest. Despite this, protests have been limited to some in Turkey. No matter what the humanitarian, ideological or political impulses are behind them, they have had no effect on the calculations of the decision-makers.
The reality is that the domestic reaction to the sentences was purely violent. The assassination of the three judges in El Arish a few hours after the court verdict gave the regime the justification to appoint Legal Consultant Ahmed Al-Zind as minister of justice a few days ago, a decision that otherwise would have been difficult to push through. The angry comments of some Brotherhood leaders on the “legitimacy of retaliation” and “a revolution that will behead”, along with the larger media manipulation of the assassination of the judges and their blameless driver have diminished sympathy towards the first Egyptian president to face the death penalty. When some politicians tried to object to the verdict, or even call for the postponement of its execution, they met with accusations of treason and support for terrorism.
Younger Brotherhood activists have criticised Supreme Guide Mohammed Ghozlan’s call for non-violent protest. Their voices are being heard calling for people to resort to violence within the parameters set out by the movement’s founder, Imam Hassan Al-Banna, who never established that violence must be ruled out. It has become clear that the belief on the street is that violence is the solution.
In following this, and perhaps even to incite further violence, these young activists living outside Egypt have claimed responsibility for attacking power stations and similar targets. The justification is that the targets are part of the infrastructure and not human beings.
The regime thus finds itself facing tough challenges and difficult questions while deciding whether or not to go ahead with the executions:
Is the regime able and willing, or both, to implement or not implement the execution order? Can it face the reactions from the public, the army, the judiciary and the media if it chooses to reduce the sentences to life imprisonment?
What will be the political and economic consequences at home and abroad of executing the first elected president, and can the regime contain them?
Is it possible to reach a “larger regional deal” to annul the death sentences or reduce them in exchange for a political and economic compromise?
The reality is that the answers to each of these questions demands a separate article of their own, starting with considerations in the domestic sphere, which will be the deciding factor for the decision-makers. This will be a decision greater than a single individual or institution, even if the president of the republic himself takes it, as the law dictates. This is not to diminish the importance of regional and international factors, but to note that the regime only considers domestic factors to be “existential”. In other words, the regime may shake in the face of storms of Islamist and international criticism, and some economic consequences such as the freezing or cancellation of aid may occur if it chooses to execute Morsi and his colleagues. However, the people of Egypt are the only force able to “execute the regime itself” if the “party of the couch” decides to take to the streets in millions claiming “conspiracy” or “inadequate punishment of those responsible for the deaths of the martyrs”.
The answer to the first question relates to the security situation in the country; if violence escalates it will become too difficult to reduce the death sentences to life imprisonment, especially with regards to the Brotherhood leaders. The ousted president has special considerations that allow for a wider margin of political manoeuvring. In other words, the policy of “violence is the solution” that some members of the Brotherhood are advocating in fact makes it easier for the regime to dispose of the movement’s leaders and cadres, which some are comparing to the massacre of the Mamluks executed by Mohammed Ali Pasha at the beginning of the 19th century, without which he would not have been able to build the modern Egyptian state. But will the price, politically and in terms of security, be acceptable? And what is the chance that secret Saudi-Kuwaiti interventions could affect the regime’s calculations? I leave this to another time.
Translated from Al Quds Al Arabi, 28 May, 2015.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.