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Egypt’s Dead Men Walking

CAIRO – Mass death sentences are usually associated with regimes like those of Adolf Hitler’s Nazis or Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. But Egypt’s military rulers have now joined the ranks of such regimes, staging circus-like trials in which the outcome is foreordained. One such trial, in March 2014, produced 529 death sentences; another, in April, yielded 683 death sentences. And the trend shows no signs of slowing.

Last month, 107 people – including Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president – were handed death sentences for their alleged role in a mass “prison break” during the January 2011 uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak. Morsi was also accused of “colluding with foreign militants” – that is, Hezbollah and Hamas – in order to free political prisoners in Egypt.

Soon after, the six defendants in the so-called “Arab Sharkas” case – who were handed death sentences in October 2014 for allegedly attacking security posts – were executed, despite a local and international outcry against the flawed trial. According to Ahmed Helmi, a lawyer for four of the six men, the government wanted to “send a message following Morsi’s verdict” that it would carry out such sentences. His clients and the others, he concluded, were just “scapegoats.”

Overall, civilian courts have handed down more than 1,000 death sentences since Egypt’s military overthrew Morsi in July 2013. The profiles of the “convicts” raise eyebrows: Emad Shahin, for example, is a world-renowned academic who has taught at Harvard and the American University in Cairo; Sondos Asem is a promising young scholar and political activist.