On Monday 28 April, 683 people were sentenced to death in the city of Minya, Egypt. The same judge then upheld the death sentences of 37 others, with life sentences for 491 more.
Amnesty International say "This is the largest single batch of simultaneous death sentences we’ve seen in recent years, not just in Egypt but anywhere in the world.”
Most of those sentenced are supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, including the head of the organisation, Mohammed Badie. They were accused of killing two police officers last year, during violence following the military coup against the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohamed Morsi.
Once the army had deposed Morsi, it proceeded to violently suppress the Brotherhood. It is estimated that 900 Brotherhood protesters were killed by the military in one incident alone. It is during this period of protest and repression that those sentenced to death are alleged to have killed two policemen.
Monday’s decision was the second batch of mass sentencing in Minya in two months. Like the first case in March, the trial was grossly unfair. The judge did not review evidence, nor allow the defence to cross-examine witnesses. Hundreds of those sentenced to death were not even allowed to appear in court. Amnesty International say the court “displayed a complete contempt for the most basic principles of a fair trial” and warned that the Egyptian judicial system is becoming “just another part of the authorities’ repressive machinery.”
The court’s ruling has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with an authoritarian military regime cracking down on its opponents. The mass death sentences used against the Muslim Brotherhood are part of a broader picture of repression which includes the arrest and prosecution of journalists for “espionage”, and the banning of the “6 April” movement, a liberal youth movement that played a key role in the revolution of 2011.
Socialists have nothing in common with the politics of the Muslim Brotherhood.
It is a right-wing, Islamist movement with a programme that runs counter to the aims of labour movement activists and genuine democrats.
When it held power last year, its authoritarian government implemented an agenda of privatisation and attacks on workers’ rights. Their politics also threatened women’s rights and those of Egyptians of minority or no religion.
Indeed, it is in part because of the bitter popular memory of the Brotherhood’s time in power, as well as revulsion at their attacks against the Christian minority and alleged involvement in terrorist attacks, that has allowed the government to get away with its brutal treatment of Brotherhood members.
Nevertheless, it is essential for the left to oppose these barbaric death sentences. Egypt’s military rulers are attempting to stamp their authority on the country, to kill off what remains of the revolutionary mood that erupted three years ago. The wave of repression has already spread beyond Brotherhood activists to liberal and leftist activists.
As strikes and workers’ discontent spreads, the left must demand an end to persecution, executions and political trials.