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>> The Financial Times


The Financial Times - November 6, 2013

by Roula Khalaf

Egyptians must be suffering from presidential trial fatigue. In less than three years, two presidents have been jailed and dragged before the courts on charges related to violence against protesters.

Hosni Mubarak, whose 30-year authoritarian presidency was brought down by the 2011 revolution, has been relatively fortunate so far. He is now awaiting a retrial, after his conviction was overturned by a higher court. He is no longer incarcerated, only under house arrest. And he could well end up exonerated.

Mohamed Morsi, the elected Islamist president who appeared before the court for the first time on Monday (his trial has now been adjourned until January), will not be so lucky. He is likely to receive harsher treatment from Egypt’s selective justice.

Since the July military coup that deposed the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mr Morsi, Egypt has been swept by a strange mood that applauds the repression of Islamists and celebrates the police, Mr Mubarak’s old security forces and, above all, Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi, the general who led the anti-Islamist coup.

Those associated with the Muslim Brotherhood have been branded terrorists and traitors who deserve to be hunted down, while security services are, in effect, heroes worthy of immunity.

The case against Mr Morsi relates to the tragic events in December 2012 in front of Itihadiya, the presidential palace, where 10 civilians were killed and others tortured, during a protest against an Islamist-tinted draft constitution that was being rushed through.

The Brotherhood sent its supporters to break the anti-Islamist demonstration, including by allegedly beating and abusing opponents. The ensuing clashes led to deaths on both sides.

It is evident that those responsible for murder should be brought to justice. Yet only one side has been pursued. According to human rights activists, no one has been charged with the killing of the Islamist protesters on that day, while Mr Morsi and 14 others are in the dock.

The discrimination is even more egregious when the more than 1,000 deaths since the June popular coup are taken into account, many of them allegedly at the hands of security forces that have been cracking down on an unrelenting wave of Islamist sit-ins and demonstrations.

Instead, the next judicial show could be another politically motivated, if not farcical, case against Mr Morsi. He faces separate charges for receiving assistance from the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas for breaking out of prison along with others during the 2011 uprising, when police disappeared from the streets and law and order collapsed across Egypt.

Many Egyptians are under the impression that staging trials such as that of Mr Morsi are a credible sign of nascent democracy in the Arab world’s most populous nation. They appear oblivious to the fact that at this time of historic upheaval, when Egyptian society is angry, confused and easily manipulated, they are being made to embrace a new form of authoritarianism.

It is true that Mr Morsi’s incompetence and the Islamists’ distorted understanding of how democracy is practised and an economy is managed, are partly to blame for society’s predicament. The Brotherhood still fails to acknowledge the depth of the resentment it instilled during one year in office.

Today, however, the brief rule of the Islamists is being used to justify not only the misguided marginalisation of the Brotherhood, which remains a sizeable Islamist constituency, but also a wider campaign against dissent. As military rule creeps back, and once-discredited security agencies consolidate power, there are unmistakable signs of a much broader intolerance setting in.

Egyptians need only look at the case of the political satirist Bassem Youssef, Cairo’s so-called Jon Stewart, whose television show was abruptly cancelled last week after a single episode in which he lampooned the new authorities and ridiculed the popular adulation of General Sisi.

For human rights defenders, the tragedy of the Morsi trial is that the Itihadiya case, handled fairly, could have represented a model of accountability and judicial independence in post-revolution Egypt. Instead, it will be seen as part of the perversion of justice and another confirmation that Egypt is moving on the wrong path.

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