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When the Grand Mufti becomes a dictator’s puppet…

The volatile political climate in Egypt has been quick to sift out those people who are easily influenced by power. Grand Mufti Shawki Allam, apparently, is one of them.

Ola Alaa, an 18-year-old Egyptian medical student, along with 20 other young women and girls, was initially jailed and sentenced to 11 years in prison for staging a peaceful street protest three years ago. Gamal Eid, a human rights activist, said that the sentences against the female protesters were politically motivated. “There is no independent judiciary in Egypt,” he claimed.

After the 2013 ousting of the first democratic and freely elected president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, this is a common scenario among ordinary citizens. The abuse of power has seen the authorities imprisoning tens of thousands of citizens, banning protests across the country, outlawing opposition groups, sentencing hundreds of people to death in unfair trials, and massacring thousands of civilians. This conjures up the image of a nation in desperate need of intervention; a nation crumbling under authoritarian rule and a ruthless dictator. The West, though, would have us believe that Egypt is flourishing under General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, whereas the fact of the matter is that Egypt is in crisis under his iron fist.

In its report released in May 2015, the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) stated that violence in the country since the 2013 coup had resulted in about 2,600 deaths. The authorities had detained, charged and sentenced at least 41,000 people, often on fabricated charges and accusations. More than 1,800 death sentences have been meted out in just 3 years by a farcical judicial system. The Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms, an independent group, has documented 256 deaths in custody since Sisi took office in June 2014, with 209 detainees having died due to medical negligence. At the time of writing, no government official or member of the security forces has been charged for the killing of at least 817 protesters in Cairo’s Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square on 14 August, 2013, even though it was very likely a crime against humanity. It has also been reported that Egyptian police officers use torture regularly in their investigations.

With a track record that has abolished all the rights and freedoms that the Egyptian people won through the 2011 revolution, Sisi has proven to be far worse than the dictator the people fought so valiantly to overthrow, Hosni Mubarak. The democratically-elected party belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood has been banned, and its leadership, including Morsi, is languishing in jail. Sisi’s government, meanwhile, is legitimised by Western powers and the Egyptian population is being left to the far from tender mercies of yet another tyrant.

While popular opinion would have us believe that Morsi was overthrown in the military coup of 2013 supported by an overwhelming majority in the country, scientific polling data provides better indications of the popular mindset. According to the only credible data available on the topic, by Pew Research, Morsi had more than 50 per cent support amongst Egyptians before the coup and has maintained a support rating of more than 40 per cent ever since, despite being in prison. On 16 June, a criminal court sentenced Morsi and 114 others to death. Human Rights Watch found that prosecutors presented no evidence to substantiate the security officials’ testimony and that the case appeared to be politically motivated. However, this was largely ignored and there has been little international outcry at the grotesque injustice of the sentence.

Within Egypt’s own borders, however, the volatile political climate has been quick to sift out those who are easily influenced by power, and Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawki Allam has fallen prey to temptation. In a move that has served to expose his desperate attempt to be approved by Sisi’s dictatorial regime, Allam passed a fatwa (ruling) recently declaring Morsi’s death sentence to be lawful. Out of 50 death sentences presented to him for ratification, Allam approved 45, including the one against Morsi. Basing his ruling on trials that were deemed “grossly unfair” by Amnesty International, the mufti forewent not only his religious obligations and duties, but also his ethics, morals and principles; any credibility he might have had has been compromised in one single move. He has been exposed to be a hypocrite and unfit to hold the prestigious position of Grand Mufti.

It has been communicated to us that Allam is scheduled to visit South Africa soon, in response to which there has been a clear and unapologetic proclamation that dictators and all their cowardly supporters can expect no welcome in a country like ours. Under international criminal law and the Nuremburg principles, judges who abuse their offices and juridical authority and became instruments for the perpetuation of war crimes and crimes against humanity are also guilty of those crimes and may be tried and convicted. Just as Sisi was forced to postpone his trip to South Africa last year when lawyers working with the Muslim Lawyers Association filed an official legal request for his arrest on charges of countless crimes against humanity, so too will Allam face a similarly hostile reception. South Africans do not entertain leaders who insist on violating the basic human rights and freedoms of their citizens, nor those who endorse such injustice.

Egypt is in dire need of solidarity against the disease that is corruption, gross injustice and unlawful dictatorship. We have a legal and moral obligation to provide that support. The moves to indict Grand Mufti Shawki Allam will demonstrate that the people of South Africa mean business when it comes to challenging those who treat human rights and international law with contempt. He will learn what it means when the Grand Mufti becomes a dictator’s puppet.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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