On May 16th May an Egyptian Court pronounced death sentences on ousted president Mohamed Morsi and more than 100 other people over a mass prison break in 2011. The former President was deposed by the military in 2013 during huge street protests against his rule and has been imprisoned ever since. Egypt's religious authorities will now have to give their opinion before the sentence can be carried out.
Morsi's supporters from his Muslim Brotherhood (MB) movement describe the charges against him as "farcical". The Arab and Muslim worlds were stunned by the sentence. Even secular people opposed to the MB were shocked by the sentence. The court will pronounce its final decision next week.
The EU and USA denounced the death sentence which the former said stemmed from a flawed trial and was "cruel and inhumane". The EU's top diplomat Federica Mogherini said "The death penalty... was taken at the end of a mass trial that was not in line with Egypt's obligations under international law."
Amnesty International said the trial was a "charade" arguing that "he was held for months incommunicado without judicial oversight and that he didn't have a lawyer".
In a further development Turkish newspaper Takvim reported that the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking to save Morsi from being put to death. The newspaper reported that Erdogan, with Saudi and Qatari mediation, is seeking to move Morsi from Egypt to Turkey. It remains to be seen whether a deal can be worked out between the parties.
To put the sentence into context, we need to remember that the MB won the November 2011 elections by almost 50% of the vote. In the presidential election on 24th June 2012 Morsi picked up 13.2 million votes out of just over 26 million, giving him about 51%.
Having been declared the fifth President of Egypt Morsi swiftly moved to get rid of Army chief Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, and replaced him with the younger General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. Morsi then cancelled a constitutional declaration aimed at curbing presidential powers.
He made many wild promises, promising to achieve them in his first 100 days, but failed to deliver. Many observers noted at the time that Morsi was acting as the dictatorial boss of a political party rather than a president of the entire country.
In November 2012 he stripped constitutional court judges of all powers. Secular and liberal Egyptians felt excluded and disenfranchised. Once again the people protested and denounced Morsi as the new Mubarak. The economic situation got worse, prices of essential commodities shot up, the country suffered repeated power cuts and fuel shortages. The protests grew and grew culminating on 30th June 2013 with millions of Egyptians assembling in Cairo. According to Koert Debeuf in his book "inside the Arab Revolution" between 15 to 30 million Egyptians took to the streets across the country. The army intervened, backed by liberals, the Copts and Al-Azhar Authority (the highest religious authority in the Muslim Sunni world). Morsi was removed from office by the army.
Middle East experts warn that if the sentence is carried out a civil war could break out in Egypt leading the country into the abyss. Islamists warned of a violent backlash and nationwide protests. It is this prospect which succeed in forcing the government to back down.
Even ISIS (DAESH) has entered the fray by denouncing the death sentences and urging the followers of Morsi to take up arms and launch a Jihad against Al Sisi. According to a recent report by Middle East Monitor, members of the Sinai branch of ISIS have been reported as pouring scorn on the members of the Muslim Brotherhood. It published two pictures next to each other, one of them features the leaders of the Brotherhood standing behind bars while the other features elements of the Sinai branch of ISIS standing over the body of an army soldier they had just killed. The combined pictures bore a caption saying: "The might of Jihad versus the subservience of peacefulness. You choose".
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is facing mounting pressure to pardon Morsi or at least to commute the death sentence to a term of imprisonment to save Egypt from a long period of instability and bloodshed, and avoid a gigantic PR disaster.