The Arab Spring was not born in Egypt, but it appears to have died there. A month after sentencing 529 Islamists to death in the killing of a single police officer, Egypt’s Criminal Court has outdone itself, sentencing another 683 people to death in a mass trial on Monday. These are not just the largest batches of simultaneous death sentences meted out in Egypt – they’re the largest in recent history anywhere.
Over the past few months, Egypt’s judicial system has shown itself to be little more than the pliable tool of a tyrannical state. These trials are not about justice. Their purpose appears to be inspiring fear among the Muslim Brotherhood, along with anyone else who dares challenge the authority of Egypt’s military rulers. The defendants are among more than 16,000 arrested since President Mohamed Morsi was deposed by the army in July.
This is not the first time the Egyptian state has cracked down on dissent. Gamal Abdel Nasser and, more recently, Hosni Mubarak’s treatment of Islamist dissidents was notorious. In the 1950s and 60s that oppression helped radicalize Ayman al-Zawahiri and give rise to al-Qaeda. Today, nearly ten thousand Islamists have been jailed in Egypt. Mistreatment and the lack of due process are sowing the seeds of further violence.
That’s just one reason why Western leaders should register their opposition to the radicalization of Egypt’s judiciary. Instead, Foreign Minister John Baird last week held a “warm and productive” meeting with his counterparts in Cairo. In Egypt, questioning the government’s conduct could lead to jail or the gallows. What’s the rest of the world’s excuse?