Egyptian Court Refers 75 Death Sentences for Review to Top Islamic Leader

CAIRO, Arab media reports that an Egyptian court has asked the country's mufti to review death sentences handed down to 75 people involved in a 2013 Muslim Brotherhood sit-in camp outside the Rabah Adawiya mosque in northern Cairo. The sit-in was stormed by the Egyptian military, after the brotherhood refused to evacuate the camp. Official reports put the death toll at close to 700 people.

It was not immediately clear why the case was remanded to the mufti, although some commentators suggest it was related to the five-year anniversary of the government's quashing of the Muslim Brotherhood sit-in. Two prominent Muslim Brotherhood leaders, Mohamed Baltagi and Issam el-Eriyan, were among those condemned to death, along with Tareq al-Zumor and Assem Abd al-Maged of the Gama'a al-Islamiya movement.

Forty four of the people condemned to death were judged in absentia, meaning that new trials must be carried out if and when they are captured or return voluntarily to Egypt.

Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut says he does not think the men who were condemned are likely to be put to death, given the controversial nature of the charges against them.

"These are political executions," said Khashan. "I don't think they will be carried out. The only cases where executions were carried out were direct attacks on the military that resulted in killings. The sit-ins at Rabah Adawiya in 2013 remain highly controversial and nobody in the world, not even inside Egypt, take these sentences seriously."

Khashan says the Egyptian government may be trying to "mend its relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, but on its own terms." He points out that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who was re-elected to a second four-year term in March, would like his ousted predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, to recognize his government, since that would "finally and officially legitimize his regime."

Khashan doubts, however, the Muslim Brotherhood would be willing to make such a concession.

Former Muslim Brotherhood politician Amr Darrag claimed in a tweet Saturday that the "Sissi government considers the unfreezing of U.S. military aid [to Egypt] a green light [for the death sentences]," and that the "U.S. administration will have [the] blood of these innocent victims on [its] hands."

The Trump Administration unfroze $195 million in military aid to Egypt this past week.

Source: Voice of America