Those who hope for clemency have misunderstood Sisi's regime
It should come as no surprise that the Court of Cassation, Egypt's highest appellate court, has ruled to uphold the death sentence of 12 members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Among Sisi's critics in the diaspora, there is a belief that, as bad as the regime may be, it would never completely disown a potential reconciliation or outreach to the Brotherhood should the conditions demand it. As others have argued, within the context of a changing region and a domestic situation fraught with potential points of social combustion, the case for the regime to reach out to the Brotherhood as some form of "national reconciliation" could be made.
After all, the Brotherhood - though membership is outlawed on pain of death - still has a unique and underground presence in the country, as well as truly transnational reach and significant influence with major regional powers among whom Sisi's Egypt now vies for relevance.
"Sisi's modus operandi is to exterminate not just the political opposition, but the very will to oppose his regime."
But this optimism relies on the idea that the Sisi regime has the necessary levels of pragmatic flexibility to think of social cohesion in Egypt beyond its own kleptocratic self-interest – never mind geopolitical considerations.
The Sisi regime is quite unlike the Mubarak regime. As bad as Mubarak was, he saw value in some form of rapprochement with the Brotherhood. But Sisi considers such outreach a fatal weakness of Mubarak that contributed to the fomentation of the January 25 revolution.
That is precisely why the 12 defendants, who include Abdul Rahman El Bar, the group's senior religious scholar, former Freedom and Justice Party MP Mohamed El Beltagi and Osama Yassin, a former minister in the Morsi government, face execution.
Sisi's modus operandi is to exterminate not just the political opposition, but the very will to oppose his regime. Executing leading figures in the opposition sends a message that anyone, regardless of their rank, renown or reputation, is fair game for politically motivated murder.
This is not some kind of future warning, but rather an everyday reality in Egypt. In 2020 alone, in what Human Rights Watch called an "execution frenzy", Egypt put more than 107 people to death, the vast majority of whom were political prisoners who did not have fair or free trials. This grants Sisi's Egypt the ignominious distinction of carrying out the third most reported executions of any country in the world, behind only China and Iran.
Those who hope for clemency from Sisi might misunderstand that, notwithstanding the one year of democratic rule under Mohamed Morsi (who was extrajudicially killed while awaiting a show trial), he has transitioned the country from its previous Mubarak-era authoritarianism into totalitarianism.
Under Mubarak, the judiciary was hardly fair or entirely free but retained some level of autonomy. Today, Sisi himself is essentially the highest legal authority. He is Egypt's high executioner, shaping the judicial system to become nothing more than an apparatus of repression and death carrying out his totalitarian agenda.
"Sisi is shaping the judicial system to become nothing more than an apparatus of repression and death"
This is not just a "technical" point regarding the current nature of the regime. In Sisi's totalitarian system, there is no incentive for "national reconciliation" as he has all but exterminated the opposition. There will be no domestic reprisals or unrest if these executions go forward, as even those who oppose them have been subdued and bludgeoned by relentless state terror.
To fully understand the prevailing unjust cognitive dissonance, it's enough to consider why these 12 men find themselves inches from the gallows. The formal charge is that they were carrying out "violence against the state" at the Rabaa and Nadha sit-ins of August 2013. It was at Rabaa and Nadha that the nascent Sisi regime carried out the worst act of state violence in modern Egyptian history, brutally murdering at least 1,000 innocent people as paramilitary security forces stormed the pro-democracy campsites.
One of the innocent lives lost that day - shot through the head by one of Sisi's snipers as she tried to find cover from the assault on Rabaa - was 17-year-old Asmaa el-Beltagi, the daughter of Mohamed el-Beltagi, one of the prisoners facing execution. Why was she in the square that day? Like almost everyone else present, to stand up for democracy against an unfolding tyrannical military coup.
‘Mohamed Morsi didn't 'die' - he was killed‘ https://t.co/iFdA3cnwMD— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) June 21, 2019
Those now facing execution, like so many others, do so because they supported democracy, justice and liberty for Egyptians. These are the principles that Sisi has, from the very beginning of his reign of terror and the visceral shock of the mass violence at Rabaa, attempted to drown in blood - whether by bullets, torture or the gallows.
How could an entity such as the Sisi regime even consider reconciliation? Why would it choose mercy when it has gained so much by mercilessness? It has enjoyed huge support from the UAE and Saudi Arabia, a lucrative and gushingly affectionate relationship with the European Union, and seemingly unconditional military aid from several US presidential administrations, including the current one. The Biden administration could heap pressure on the Sisi regime to rethink its "execution frenzy", but in the first half of this year alone, Egypt has already executed 51 people, including many political prisoners convicted in show trials.
So far, Biden, who promised to "get tough" on the Sisi regime for its human rights abuses, has reacted by selling the regime Raytheon missiles and blocking one of its former chief torturers and executioners, Hazem el-Beblawi, from being pursued in a US court by one of his victims.
Despite the noble work of Egyptian and international human rights groups, Sisi's Egypt has so far triumphed through terror. Until his regime begins to suffer for its many evils, Sisi's terror will only expand and many more innocents will be martyred.
Sam Hamad is a writer and History PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow focusing on totalitarian ideologies.
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