Four years after the massacre of demonstrators in Cairo’s Rabaa Adawiya Square, the regime has inflicted its vengeance mercilessly and to the full. On Saturday, Egyptian courts sentenced 75 people to death, including some leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, and more than 600 to heavy prison terms, all for the long sit-in organized in 2013 against the coup carried out by the Army and led by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, which had toppled Islamist President Mohammed Morsi the previous month.
The courts also gave out 47 life sentences, one of them for the Muslim Brotherhood’s leader, Mohammed Badie, already sentenced to multiple life sentences. The defendants in the trial numbered 739. Among those sentenced was also the award-winning photojournalist (recently commended by UNESCO) Mahmoud Abu Zeid, better known as “Shawkan”—who, however, should be released within a few days, because his five-year sentence corresponds to the time he has already spent behind bars waiting for trial.
During these years, international organizations for human rights and the freedom of the press have been pushing for his release, but the regime has been completely inflexible concerning Shawkan, accusing him of being part of a “terrorist group” and possessing firearms. The photojournalist has always categorically denied such accusations, saying that he had only been doing his job in Rabaa Adawiya Square.
What has just concluded has been a trial against the victims, and not against the perpetrators of the August 2013 massacre of at least 800 protesters gathered in Rabaa Adawiya Square against Sisi’s coup. The regime claims to have fought off an “armed threat” during those days, and initially claimed 40 police officers had been killed—a number later reduced to eight. In any event, none of the members of the security forces have been convicted, and likely not even investigated at all, for the massacre of civilians gathered in the square, which Sisi and the other generals who had led the coup decided to “evacuate” at any cost.
Furthermore, the fact that the Egyptian judiciary is subservient to the regime is also proven by the case of the brutal murder of Giulio Regeni, the young Italian student. Nearly two years after his death—in which everyone believes the security services were involved—the investigation is lost in the dark, following false leads and red herrings, since the Egyptian district attorney’s office is only interested in buying time, hoping that the Regeni family and the Italians will give up on the truth.
All this only highlights how much of a farce the recent trip to Cairo by Vice-Prime Minister Di Maio (M5S) was, who, in the name of good business relationships (especially as regards Eni) between Italy and Egypt, was happy to welcome the non-credible assurances offered by the Egyptians on the progress of the investigation, and remained shamefully silent when el-Sisi uttered the phrase “Giulio is one of us,” to the indignation of the Regeni family. The M5S-Lega government is toeing the line of the previous PD government, which returned the Italian ambassador to Cairo in 2017, marking the de facto end of any crisis between the two countries.
Since he became president in 2014—after an election campaign in which he had no real opponents—el-Sisi and his men have justified repression by the need to combat “terrorism.” They have used this pretext to silence anyone who doesn’t march in lockstep with them. The sword of the regime has struck mercilessly, most prominently against the Muslim Brotherhood, but also against secular opponents, the left, the press, bloggers and human rights activists.
It has even hit some of the protagonists of the 2011 revolt against “the Pharaoh,” Hosni Mubarak. The el-Sisi regime is more ferocious than that of Mubarak, which in its time made history for its 30 years of brutality and repression. The difference between that period and today is that while the “the Pharaoh” was universally hated, el-Sisi actually enjoys the support of a large segment of the Egyptian public—that is, the part of the population that fears a return to power of the Muslim Brotherhood—which makes it difficult to counter his repression and systematic human rights abuses.
Another factor that plays into the hands of the regime is the situation in North Sinai, where the Egyptian army has been engaged for years in a bloody campaign against jihadi groups which have claimed allegiance to the Islamic State, and which have been responsible for massacres of soldiers and Christian civilians in that region of Egypt. This situation has helped push the Coptic minority (about nine million people) to align even more with the Egyptian president, making him stronger.
These latest death sentences are added to the hundreds passed by Egyptian judges in the last five years. Egypt has not seen such a dark period concerning fundamental human rights for many decades—not even in the times of Anwar Sadat, who mercilessly went after secular and progressive personalities who had supported his predecessor Gamal Abdel Nasser, or who challenged his sharp pro-American turn.
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