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V.BALACHANDRAN
POLICE & STATE

V. Balachandran is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat.

Al Qaeda hovers as Egypt persecutes Brotherhood

Strangest feature of these trials was that many accused, who were sentenced, were not even in custody.

Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie during his trial in Cairo, Egypt on Wednesday. PTI/AP

isiting Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said in Washington DC on 29 April that their judicial system was "completely independent from government" but acknowledged "they're part of what Egypt is all about". He was responding to US Secretary of State John Kerry's concerns on the mass trials in Egypt and issuance of death sentences en masse, which the State Department had earlier described as "unconscionable". This was after a Minya court, on 27 April, sentenced to death Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie and 682 others for killing or attempting to murder police officers during the August 2013 disturbances. The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) prognosticated in January that the Egyptian developments would boost Al Qaeda, which had cited these developments as "validation of its own narrative that democracy is not a viable path to power". Ayman Al-Zawahiri's video on 27 April exhorting his followers to kidnap westerners for military crackdown proved this prophecy.

The conflict in Egypt is the same as unveiled in 1928 by Hasan al-Banna, a primary school teacher, who was posted near the Suez Canal: Can an Islamic society tolerate a Western style secular democracy? The Muslim Brotherhood, once the inspiration of all such fundamentalist organisations in the world, had a long walk to their version of democracy as symbolised by Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's fifth President. Banna utilised traditional mosque-led Islamic welfare associations and neighbourhood groups to propagate pan-Islamism. The Brotherhood took part in the 1936-39 Palestine revolt, sent volunteers to fight the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, got outlawed by the monarchy in the same year, supported the 1952 Naguib coup and later Nasser and Sadat who were originally its sympathisers. Morsi utilised his brief presidency (June 2012-July 2013) to wrest power to legislate without a Supreme Court review of his actions. His Islamic style of draft Constitution was unveiled in November 2012, which he proposed for referendum. This was held on 15 and 22 December 2012, wherein 63.83% supported it, while 36.17% rejected it. It was not only the minority and women's groups who rejected it. Observers say that the Salafists also were critical as they felt that the Constitution did not fully comply with the Sharia.

The opposing elements in this conflict were introduced by the monarchy, Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak during their long rules between 1922 and 2011: Should the Egyptian system tolerate the Brotherhood's version of Islamic society even when the society's elite, army and judiciary do not want it? The present army opposition to the Brotherhood, supported by the secular elite and judiciary is the same as the conflict between 1922 and 2011. Nothing has changed but for the recent court "verdicts". It is not known what type of kangaroo court system exists in Egypt and why they should work in tandem with the military. The same Minya judge had reversed 492 of the 529 death sentences passed last month and commuted them to life except for 37.

The 27 April sentencing is to be confirmed on 21 June. The New York Times said (28 April) that only one police officer was killed for which 683 were sentenced to death. No charges were filed against the excessive force used by the authorities killing over 1,000 Brotherhood supporters: "The mass death sentence, announced after a cursory trial of a few sessions lasting just minutes, was the second of its kind from the same court in the space of a month, and it drew condemnation from the White House as well as international rights groups." The strangest feature of these trials was that many of the accused, who were sentenced, were not even in custody. The Times located "Edwa", a town of a few thousand people, "where at least one member of every extended family appears to have been sentenced to death". Foreign observers felt that this was a way to intimidate people not to support the Brotherhood.

Will the army achieve its strategic aims through such tactics even when its stronger predecessors, such as Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak failed to contain the popular dissent even with their carrot and stick policy toward the Brotherhood? How will it obtain majority participation in the 26-27 May Presidential elections when the common public is largely in favour of the Brotherhood?

 
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