Egypt’s judicial system spiraling out of control
May 8th, 2014
05:51 PM ET

Egypt’s judicial system spiraling out of control

By Salil Shetty, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Salil Shetty is Amnesty International's secretary general. The views expressed are his own.

Egypt’s criminal justice system was in the spotlight again after a court agreed to hand down the largest number of death sentences in modern memory. But this was not the work of a rogue judge, as some have suggested. Instead, the rulings were simply the latest in a series of incidents that point to a judicial system that is spiraling out of control.

In the space of a few short months, courts have made ready to sentence hundreds of people to death, jailed leading activists and protestors, including young women for protesting peacefully, and put journalists on trial for merely doing their job.

The courts have also hammered independent civil society. Last week, a court ruling effectively banned the April 6 Youth Movement, the activist group that spearheaded the mass protests that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s government in January 2011. And Egypt’s human rights groups may be next in the firing line, with memories of last year’s NGO trial still vivid in the minds of many activists.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s state prosecutors seem to have abandoned any pretense of establishing individual criminal responsibility for human rights abuses. Instead, they’ve thrown the book at anyone remotely suspected of supporting the ousted president, Mohamed Morsy.

Thousands now languish in prison, most detained on a copy-and-paste series of accusations ranging from murder to “participating in an unauthorized protest,” blocking traffic and belonging to the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood movement.

The judiciary’s message is clear: Don’t question the authorities.

And yet, for years, Egypt’s judiciary was one of the rare institutions that was prepared to stand up to the authorities. Many still speak of the judges who resisted repeated attempts by Mubarak’s administration to undermine their independence, and who shut down the courts in December 2012 after Morsy decreed himself virtually unlimited powers.

True, the authorities maintain the courts are still independent. But the hard truth is, a series of arbitrary rulings and a pattern of selective justice has muddied their hard-won reputation.

Meanwhile, even as the judiciary has been busy locking up government opponents, they have seemingly turned a blind eye to gross human rights violations by the security forces and ignored attacks on Coptic Christians and sexual assaults on women protesters. Indeed, the courts have jailed just a handful of police officials for abuses, despite the deaths of hundreds of people in protests and ongoing political violence and the ill-treatment of those in detention.

By giving security forces a free pass, the judiciary has opened the way for human rights violations on an unprecedented scale. When security forces brutally dismantled the protest camp at Rabaa al-Adawiya last August, they did so in the knowledge that they would not have to answer to anyone.

The operation unfolded in broad daylight, with hundreds killed and blood and fire in the streets. And yet, eight months on, not a single member of the security forces has been held properly to account for these killings. Instead, the judiciary seems to be intent on finishing in the courts the job that the police started in the streets – wiping out any form of dissent from the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters to secular activists once and for all, no matter the cost to due process, human rights or their reputation. Time and time again, families of those killed in protests and political violence have told us that they despair of ever seeing justice for their loved ones.

Those facing grossly unfair trials are equally pessimistic.

“There is no justice anymore in this country anymore,” one relative told Amnesty International outside the court. “We do not trust anyone except God.”

The United States and European Union were quick to condemn this latest development, as they have been so many times before. But such protestations increasingly look like crocodile tears. The U.S. authorities cannot condemn lethal force against protesters on the one hand, while happily preparing to resume partial military aid to the Egyptian authorities by reportedly approving the delivery of Apache helicopters.

It's time to end the mixed signals and double standards. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have openly backed the authorities’ crackdown on dissent. And it's also time for the United Nations’ human right body to take the lead. If Egypt’s authorities are unable to deliver truth and justice, then the Human Rights Council should explore other mechanisms to deliver accountability.

Ultimately, though, if the United States and Europe want to remain relevant, they must come up with a coherent strategy for tackling Egypt's human rights crisis and abandon the piecemeal and ineffective offerings we've seen so far.

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Topics: Egypt • Protests

soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. chrissy

    See what wonderful things are hard earned tax dollars have done now? And we should be so proud of how our military budget has been utilised!!

    May 8, 2014 at 6:29 pm |
    • j. von hettlingen

      These sentences can only be handed down by a kangaroo court. Although the judiciary in Egypt aims to terrify and intimidate protesters, but it has also damaged its image of being the hangman of the military-led government.

      May 11, 2014 at 10:56 am |
  2. bobcat2u

    Moses is sitting in the Egyptian ghetto, things are going terrible: the
    Pharoah won't even talk to him, the rest of the Hebrews are mad at him
    for making the overseers even more irritable than usual, etc. He's about
    ready to give up.
    Suddenly a booming, sonorous voice speaks from above: "You, Moses, heed
    Me. I have good news, and bad news."
    Moses is staggered. The voice continues:
    "You, Moses, will lead the
    people of Israel from bondage. If the pharoah refueses to release your
    bonds I will smote egypt with a rain of frogs.
    "You, Moses, will lead
    the people of Israel to the promised land. If the pharoah blocks your
    way I will smote egypt with a plague of locusts.
    "You, Moses, will lead
    the people to freedom and safety. If the pharoah's army pursues you, I
    will part the waters of the red sea to open your path to the promised
    Moses is stunned. He stammers, "That's, that's fantastic, I can't
    believe it! – but what's the bad news?"
    "You, moses, must write the environmental impact statement."

    May 8, 2014 at 6:53 pm |
  3. bobcat2u

    Old news you may have missed :

    SIX DIE TRYING TO SAVE CHICKEN – August 1, 1995 CAIRO, Egypt (AP) – Six people drowned yesterday while trying to rescue a chicken that had fallen into a well in southern Egypt. An 18-year-old farmer was the first to descend into the 60-foot well. He drowned, apparently after an undercurrent in the water pulled him down, police said. His sister and two brothers, none of whom could swim well, went in one by one to help him, but also drowned. Two elderly farmers then came to help, but they apparently were pulled down by the same undercurrent. The bodies of the six were later pulled out of the well in the village of Nazlat Imara, 240 miles south of Cairo. The chicken was also pulled out. It survived.

    May 8, 2014 at 6:57 pm |
  4. bobcat2u

    The children in the Sunday school class were asked by their teacher to draw pictures of their favorite Bible stories. When she looked at little Ricky's picture, she was puzzled to see that he had drawn four people in an airplane, so she asked him which story it represented.
    Little Ricky replied, "That's the Flight to Egypt."
    "Oh, I see," said the teacher. "That must be Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus, but who's the fourth person?"
    "That's Pontius... the Pilot!" answered Ricky.

    May 8, 2014 at 6:59 pm |
  5. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    Wow, @ bobcat. All of them.
    Where is the cat now?

    May 8, 2014 at 7:09 pm |
    • bobcat2u

      @ Joey
      I apologize my friend, maybe I went brain dead, but I didn't understand your question.

      May 8, 2014 at 7:59 pm |
  6. bobcat2u

    A judge presiding over a court in Washington, D.C., was administering the oath to a boy of tender years, and to him put the following question:

    "Have you ever taken the oath? Do you know how to swear, my boy?"

    Whereupon the lad responded: "Yes, sir. I am your caddie at the Chevy Chase Club."

    May 8, 2014 at 7:29 pm |
  7. chrissy

    Thank you @ bobcat! That humor was very much needed today!

    May 8, 2014 at 7:43 pm |
  8. bobcat2u

    You are so very welcome, chrissy. Always happy to oblige.

    May 8, 2014 at 7:50 pm |
  9. chrissy

    Hey tell the missus happy mothers day in case i dont see you before then.

    May 8, 2014 at 7:52 pm |
    • bobcat2u

      Will do !!! And the same right back to you.

      May 8, 2014 at 8:02 pm |
  10. chrissy

    Lmao @ bobcat i think he meant you are usually "in a hat"! Lol

    May 8, 2014 at 8:34 pm |
  11. nickoydwilson


    May 9, 2014 at 3:02 am |
  12. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    This disregard for human life is truly ludicrous. Egypt needs to replace these jokers with more enlightened judges with human feelings.

    May 9, 2014 at 9:59 am |
  13. chrissy

    But...@ Faux Joey, the US is responsible for this! This is what happens when we fund a countrys military to overthrow their government!

    May 9, 2014 at 10:19 am |
  14. Dodo

    please show the videos that explain why those terrorism got this sentence,they killed police officers ,burn police stations and churches kicked Christians from their home, stole guns and turned their villages to nightmare

    May 9, 2014 at 10:40 am |
  15. chrissy

    Oh sure @ dodo, THATS why they have incarcerated journalists too huh? And peaceful women demonstrators? Your name suits you!

    May 9, 2014 at 11:50 am |
  16. The US Dept Of Defense

    The US DOD announces a new weapon available if hostile aliens try to take over the Earth. The DOD will allow Palin voters to "mind meld" with the aliens. The aliens' heads will immediately implode caused by the huge vacuum.

    May 9, 2014 at 11:58 am |
  17. John Smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    May 9, 2014 at 3:34 pm |
  18. board game offers

    Deference to article author, some great entropy.

    April 13, 2018 at 12:41 pm |

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