After mass trials in Cairo, a shameful silence from the international community
© Getty Images

Last Saturday, on a typically hot and dry day in Cairo, 75 people were sentenced to death. It was a disgraceful and farcical mass trial: more than 700 people were hauled before Cairo Criminal Court for perceived crimes committed during a protest in the city in 2013. Hundreds were handed prison sentences ranging from five years to life. Their ‘crimes’ included documenting the brutality inflicted on demonstrators by the Egyptian Security Forces, and the subsequent bloodshed that ensued.

The ‘break-up’ of the sit-in protest in al-Rabaa square in 2013 remains one of the darkest days in modern Egyptian history. General Sisi launched a scorched-earth assault on two encampments, killing in a matter of hours at least 900 supporters of the deposed President Morsi. What the Interior Ministry has promised to be a gradual and measured dispersal of the protestors became, according to Human Rights Watch, ‘one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history.’ Armored vehicles, tear gas and sniper rifles were used on the crowd. Teenagers were shot dead; at least one man was incinerated in his tent.

The verdict reached on Saturday was a wholly political one, and any lingering suggestion of impartiality was done away with when hundreds, denied individual legal representation, were sentenced en masse. From its inception, the trial lacked any standards of a fair trial, ending prolonged periods of pre-trial detention long past the two-year legal limit in the country. The judge refused to admit evidence favorable to the defense and allowed only a fraction of the witnesses the defense requested to be summoned. The prosecution failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove individual guilt. Amnesty International rightly condemned the occasion as a ‘grotesque parody of justice’ and the court’s decision as ‘grossly unfair’.

Clearly, this was a flagrant and unashamed violation of international standards and law. But it is only the latest expression of the thrall in which General Sisi, the architect of the bloodshed on Aug. 14, has the country.

Despite the condemnation of rights groups and the U.N. human rights commissioner, a deathly quiet seems to have fallen over the international community. The UK and U.S. have had little to say in response to the verdict (or during Egypt’s rapid descent into autocracy over the past half-decade.) Since 2013, Sisi has tightened his grip on the country. There are now as many as 60,000 political prisoners ––more than 10 times as many as there were before Hosni Mubarak was forced out of government. 20 of these are American citizens. And yet as human rights violations by Egyptian security forces occur ‘on a scale never been before’, in the words of Amnesty official Najia Bounaim, the government of the United States watches with folded arms.

All this is made worse by the double standards that President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republican threatens to push for Rosenstein impeachment unless he testifies Judge suggests Trump’s tweet about Stormy Daniels was ‘hyperbole’ not defamation Rosenstein faces Trump showdown MORE has shown and continues to show in regard of international relations. When Andrew Brunson, an American evangelical pastor, was imprisoned in Turkey following the failed coup against President Erdogan, Trump threatened ‘large sanctions’ against the country ––a NATO ally––and wrote on Twitter that ‘this innocent man of faith should be released immediately.’

How curious it is that the imprisonment of Moustafa Kassem, a New York taxi driver arrested five years ago while visiting his wife and children in Egypt, does not inspire the same kind of response. Kassem, like others arrested in the 2013 protests, was ‘detained’ anew every 45 days for five years. On Saturday he was sentenced for a further 15 years. Not a word on the matter has escaped the president’s mouth.

And this is not to say that the President Trump has turned a blind eye to events in Egypt. On the contrary, he has called President Sisi a ‘fantastic guy’. In July, the Trump administration released $195 million in military aid to Egypt, despite Sisi’s failure to release all American political prisoners or meet the three conditions laid out by former Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Pompeo working to rebuild ties with US diplomats: report NYT says it was unfair on Haley curtain story MORE. The disbursement of aid was done ‘in the spirit of our efforts to strengthen this relationship.’ Yet it is a kick in the teeth for political prisoners punished for the celebrated American values of free speech and assembly, and for American nationals separated from home by sea and culture and hard iron bars.

Not a single security officer has had to answer for the crimes committed in 2013. And the conductor of that massacre has yet to be brought to justice. Sisi, re-elected in March in a sham-election in which his opponent was his own supporter, is thriving on the indulgence of the West’s indifference. There are no signs that he intends to soften his repressive and authoritarian approach to ‘governance’. If the international community continues to stand back and ignore his crimes, they are sending a message to despots and autocrats the world over: not only will brutal regimes be tolerated, but their perpetrators may even be celebrated. 

That is why the death sentences handed down on Saturday, called an ‘irreversible miscarriage of justice’ if they go ahead by the UN, must be met with robust and unequivocal condemnation from the liberal democracies of the world. We cannot stand silent when dictators act with such flagrant disregard to fundamental norms of fairness and justice. It is not just 75 Egyptians facing the death penalty that depend on a robust response. It is an entire generation of Egyptians who are now witnessing a depressing return to the darkest days of military rule.

Dr Amr Darrag is a former Egyptian Minister of Planning and International Relations. He is currently Chairman of the Egyptian Institute for Studies