What Morsi's sentence tells us about Sisi's regime

What Morsi's sentence tells us about Sisi's regime
Comment: Sisi's administration in Cairo commands support through repression of opposition, but, by not executing the former president, Egypt's regime has shown that it still fears those who oppose it.
6 min read
25 Apr, 2015
Despite Sisi's power, the administration still fears the potential repercussions of executing Mohamed Morsi [AFP]
While Egypt's first and only democratically elected president - overthrown by a military coup less than two years ago - has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for dubious charges relating to the killing of protesters in November 2012, the fact that he hasn't been sentenced to death tells us something quite significant about the nature of the Egyptian regime's political stability.

The administration of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has proven itself to be unprecedentedly brutal when it comes to dealing with political opponents, so it's safe to assume that mercy was not a motivation behind its sparing of Morsi from the death penalty. 

The fact that one of the worst massacres in living memory - the extermination of 800-1,000 pro-Morsi and pro-democracy protesters gathered in Rabaa and Nadha squares in July 2013 - could occur so openly, and with full judicial support, tells us that the Sisi regime would certainly have no moral qualms about executing the former president.

Likewise, we can certainly rule out judicial proficiency or impartiality as the reason for Morsi's life being spared.

Indeed, the question of the Egyptian judiciary's "integrity" and "independence" is perhaps the most ironic element of this story. It was precisely because of the anti-democratic and politically partisan nature of the judiciary that President Morsi was forced to enact those infamous constitutional decrees in November 2012 - the ones that led to the clashes that were the subject of Morsi's recent conviction.

'Justice' system

The judges had been working to dissolve Egypt's democratic Constituent Assembly, which had been tasked with drafting a new constitution. 

However, the problem was wider. The judiciary was and remains packed full of Mubarak loyalists and the kind of people who have every interest in undermining and curtailing democracy and the powers of its democratically elected president. 

Morsi needed to establish extra-constitutional powers to take on an extra-constitutional, anti-democratic threat.

Of course, the move backfired, leading to anti-democratic and anti-Morsi forces coalescing in a dress rehearsal for the counter-revolutionary protests and coup that would occur a few months later.

Egypt's judiciary is and always has been far from independent or impartial. During Sisi's reign, it has acted in an overtly and brutally politically manner, with Amnesty International describing it as "spiralling out of control", with the sham trials and mass death sentences handed out to pro-democracy activists.
     Egypt's judiciary is and always has been far from independent or impartial.

In fact, despite Morsi escaping the death penalty, his conviction in this specific trial also reflects the sheer corruption and political partisanship of the judiciary.

Warped narrative

Morsi's conviction is based on extremely dubious evidence and a warped narrative.

The clashes that took place outside the presidential palace in November 2012 occurred not due to Mohamed Morsi ordering or inciting anybody to be killed, but because the Mubarak-loyal security forces, seeking to sow chaos, literally abandoned their posts.

This allowed anti-Morsi protesters, whipped up into a frenzy by Egypt's violently anti-Morsi and anti-democratic private media - who were accusing the president of using the constitutional decrees as an attempt to institute some kind of theocratic dictatorship - to storm and firebomb the presidential palace.

Watching this unfolding, Morsi's supporters rallied in a misguided attempt to protect the president. 

Of the 11 Egyptians who were killed, eight were pro-Morsi protesters, with the remaining three being two anti-Morsi protesters and a journalist caught up in the chaos. 

These facts hardly fit with the narrative put forward by the Sisi regime and Morsi's opponents.

Judicial 'independence'

The fact that Morsi has been convicted on this absurd charge following a sham trial, yet not one member of the Mubarak regime - including Mubarak himself, his two sons and his former interior minister, Habib al-Adly - has been convicted of anything, tells us everything we need to know about the corrupt, anti-democratic and politically compromised judiciary in Egypt.

So why then has Egypt's first and only democratically elected president been spared the hangman's rope? 

Since Sisi overthrew Morsi, the regime has attempted to portray itself as being universally popular with Egyptians.  Despite the obvious absurdities of this claim, the fact is that the Sisi regime has had to continually resort to brutal violence, because a significant body of opposition continues to exist.
     The Sisi regime has had to continually resort to brutal violence, because a significant body of opposition continues to exist.

Opposition sacrifices

You certainly won't hear about this opposition in the mainstream Egyptian media, while the international media fares only slightly better. 

It's often referred to as the R4BIA movement and it was formed by remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as supporters of Morsi and, more generally, democratic legitimacy and the January 25 revolution, following the coup and massacre at Rabaa.

Since July 3, it has been able to maintain often large, if isolated, protests and marches against the Sisi regime on a daily basis, whether in small provincial villages, Cairo slums or on the campuses of Egypt's public universities. 

These are the people who have bore the brunt of Sisi's crackdown - it's them who face execution and all kinds of savagery for the crime of resisting.

There is no doubt that Sisi enjoys much popularity and that the counter-revolution has significant public support, but the fact that his regime was not prepared to execute Morsi demonstrates that it is not quite popular enough to act with total impunity when it comes to murdering the figureheads and symbolic leaders of the main political opposition movement.

Given what was lost over the past few years in Egypt and the unprecedented savagery of the triumphant counter-revolutionary forces, it is quite astonishing that such a movement even still exists. 

These brave people and their will to resist is the only remaining positive legacy of the January 25 revolution. They demonstrate that the fear that was smashed during the overthrow of Mubarak has not been completely restored.

The Sisi regime fears that making Morsi even more of a martyr by executing him, would not only risk further radicalising the existing opposition groups, but also of radicalising those who are passively opposed to Sisi's savage rule.

Sisi is not on the verge of being overthrown. His regime enjoys significant domestic support and has become viable in the eyes of the international community - most notably the US, which continues to play its age-old game of materially supporting the Egyptian regime, thus providing it with the means of brutality, despite going through motions of expressing "concern" over its brutal behaviour.

However, while Mohamed Morsi is still to face even more absurd charges, it is unlikely that he or any other high-ranking opposition figure will be executed. 

We have the people resisting on the streets - the people whose deaths, imprisonment and continued brutalisation go largely unnoticed by the world - to thank for this. As much as the Sisi regime would like to portray itself as a fortress of stability, its foundations are far from firm.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.