Less than a week after receiving news that the Obama administration had approved the sale of a fleet of U.S. Apache attack helicopters to Egypt, uproar is following a pair of court decisions Monday that critics say reveal the military-controlled government's vicious attack on human rights and democratic values.
"These sentences are aimed at striking fear and terror into the hearts of those who oppose the interim government." —Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch
On Monday, a judge in the country sentenced 720 men to death in a pair of separate rulings. Most of the individuals are members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the political party whose leader Mohamed Morsi was democratically elected as president following the 2011 revolution but later thrown from power following a military coup.
According to Al-Jazeera:
An Egyptian judge has sentenced 683 alleged Muslim Brotherhood supporters to death, including the group's supreme guide, Mohamed Badie, and confirmed the death sentences of 37 of 529 alleged supporters previously condemned.
Outside the courtroom on Monday, when news of the sentences broke, families of the accused began to scream and several women fainted, falling to the ground.
Mohamed Elmessiry, an Amnesty International researcher monitoring the cases, said they "lacked basic fair trial guarantees".
The defendants from the first case whose death sentences were not upheld were each sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Many of the lawyers for the accused boycotted the hearing, demanding that the judge be recused and calling him a "butcher".
"The decisions are possibly the largest possible death sentences in recent world history," said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director for Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch. "While they're exceptional in scale, they're certainly not exceptional in kind."
She added: "It seems that these sentences are aimed at striking fear and terror into the hearts of those who oppose the interim government."
And Sabah Hassan, whose son was sentenced to death, told Reuters: "This is a corrupt government. This is a failed regime. We have no real police. We have no real state."
In a separate but related development, another Egyptian court on Monday banned what is known as the 'April 6th Movement,' one of the leading protest groups that led the revolt in 2011 that led to the ouster of dictator Hosni Mubarak.
As Arab News reports:
The ruling is seen by activists as part of a government- orchestrated campaign to stifle opposition and dissent.
The court in Cairo ruled in a suit filed by a lawyer who demanded the banning of the group over allegations it “tarnished the image of the Egyptian state” and conspired against the country’s national interests.
Leaders of April 6 — Ahmed Maher and Mohammed Adel — have been jailed for violating a new protest law that requires that any demonstration must have a police permit.
Despite these attacks on democratic values, the U.S. government continues to support the Egyptian government with more than $1.5 billion in foreign aid, most of which is directed towards the military and security apparatus. In addition, as the controversial court rulings took place on Monday, Egypt's Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy was in Washington, DC on an official state visit.