CAIRO/WASHINGTON: Egypt’s military-installed leaders must prove they are serious about bringing democracy to the world’s largest Arab nation, US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted yesterday.
He delivered the stern warning as he met with Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy — the highest level visit to Washington by an Egyptian official since the army ousted elected Islamist leader Mohamed Mursi in July, throwing US policy towards Cairo into disarray.
“We all know there have been disturbing decisions within the judicial process,” Kerry said, highlighting recent mass death sentences against hundreds of alleged supporters of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood. “Clearly Egypt has been going through a very difficult transitional process,” Kerry said at the start of the two men’s talks in the State Department.
“We want the interim government to be successful. We are hopeful and look for a political process of inclusivity, a constitution implemented which brings people politically to the table and broadens the democratic base.”
But he warned Fahmy he would raise the “serious challenges” posed by the court decisions “very candidly” to ensure the implementation of democracy and “Egypt’s re-emergence’s on the world stage.” The US administration last week partially lifted a six-month freeze on some $1.5bn in mostly military US aid to Cairo — a key regional ally.
Washington has agreed to deliver 10 Apache helicopters for counterterrorism efforts in the unruly Sinai peninsula and some $650m in military aid, but withheld the rest of the funding until democratic progress is made. “We are really looking for certain things to happen that will give people some confidence about this road ahead. It’s actions not words that will make the difference,” Kerry said.
Fahmy replied that Egypt’s courts were independent and the government could not interfere in the judicial process, but he predicted that once the process has played out “we will end up with proper decisions in each of these cases.”
“I come now representing a people that want democracy, that want to be stakeholders in their future,” Fahmy said. But he warned that the transformation in Egypt “was societal, not simply changing one president for another.”
A wave of mass sentences in Egypt, including hundreds sentenced to death this week after a rushed mass trial, has sparked charges that military-installed authorities are using the judiciary as a blunt tool of repression.
The sentences handed out Monday to nearly 700 supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Mursi — after only one hearing — fed international outrage after a similar verdict last month, although most of the previous batch of sentences were commuted to life imprisonment.
On a near-daily basis, new trials open before being swiftly adjourned, with lawyers and human rights activists baffled by the sentencing of dozens or even hundreds of defendants based on evidence that is rarely made public.
Among those sentenced to death on Monday in the southern town of Minya were people who were dead or out of the country on the day of the violent riots they were accused of taking part in.
“If anybody had any doubts that Egypt was eradicating political opposition, those doubts should be put to rest,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch’s Middle East director, said. “This is sham justice.”
Since the army ousted Mursi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, in July amid a wave of protests against him, a security crackdown targeting his supporters has left more than 1,400 killed and 15,000 jailed.
Hundreds of Mursi’s supporters have been sentenced to death or life imprisonment, and dozens more have gotten hefty jail terms.
In one case, 14 young women were given 11 years in jail for taking part in a pro-Mursi protest. The sentence was later reduced on appeal to a one-year suspended sentence, however, and seven girls, initially sentenced to juvenile detention, were ordered freed.
In recent months the crackdown has been extended to non-Islamist activists — including many who backed the overthrow of Mursi — following illegal protests against the military-installed authorities.
Even before the sentencing phase, Egyptian court proceedings are frequently marred by shouting matches involving lawyers and journalists, with police conscripts physically separating the two groups. At the opening of one of Mursi’s trials, local journalists chanted “Execution!”
Mursi and his co-defendants have been relegated to soundproof glass docks for recent hearings to prevent them from interrupting the proceedings. “It’s as if we are judged in absentia,” a defendant shouted during one hearing, into a microphone the judge can turn on or off at will.
In the widely covered trial of Al Jazeera journalists accused of supporting Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, prosecutors presented a bizarre array of “evidence,” including garbled audio tapes that only the judge could understand, reports on the price of meat in Egypt and clips from programmes made by other media outlets. The military-installed authorities have stood by the judiciary, insisting it is independent, but top officials have privately admitted to being embarrassed by overzealous judges.
The mass death sentences have nevertheless sparked little outrage within Egypt, where an intensive media campaign has convinced many that the Brotherhood is a foreign-backed terrorist group.
During his year in power, Mursi had sought to sideline judges loyal to strongman Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled by a popular uprising in 2011, and some analysts believe the judges are now settling scores.AFP
WASHINGTON: US Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees foreign aid, said he will not approve sending funds to the Egyptian military, denouncing a “sham trial” in which a court sentenced 683 people to death. “I’m not prepared to sign off on the delivery of additional aid for the Egyptian military,” the Vermont Democrat said in a speech on the Senate floor, explaining why he would hold up the $650m.
“I’m not prepared to do that until we see convincing evidence the government is committed to the rule of law,” Leahy said.
The Obama administration said last week it would deliver 10 Apache attack helicopters and $650m to Egypt’s military, relaxing a partial suspension of aid imposed after Egypt’s military ousted President Mohamed Mursi last year and cracked down violently on protesters. Leahy said he would block the money a day after an Egyptian court sentenced the leader of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and 682 supporters to death, intensifying a crackdown on the Islamist movement that could trigger protests and political violence ahead of an election next month. The Apaches are not subject to congressional approval.
Leahy said he would be watching the situation in Egypt with “growing dismay” even if he were not chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, denouncing “a sham trial lasting barely an hour.”
“It’s a flaunting of human rights by the Egyptian government. It’s an appalling abuse of the justice system, which is fundamental to any democracy. Nobody, nobody, can justify this. It does not show democracy. It shows a dictatorship run amok. It is a total violation of human rights,” Leahy said.AFP
BERLIN: The German foreign ministry said it summoned the Egyptian ambassador yesterday to urge the lifting of 683 death sentences handed down by an Egyptian court to suspected Islamists. The ministry said its Middle East coordinator Volkmar Wenzel had made the “urgent appeal” to Ambassador Mohamed Higazy for the justice authorities to reverse Monday’s decision “and allow the affected people to have a fair trial”.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had said on Monday that the authorities were “running the risk of further destabilising the country and cementing the division within politics and society in the run-up to the presidential elections due to take place in May”. Germany has offered Egypt aid in exchange for democratic development since the 2011 ouster of Hosni Mubarak.
But it has expressed growing disquiet about rights abuses in the country seen as pivotal for the development of the Arab Spring countries. AFP