Will Egyptian Regime Use Verdict Session a Bargaining Chip against MB in Municipal Elections?
The ongoing military tribunal for 40 Muslim Brotherhood leaders was supposed to come to an end on February 26th, when the sentencing session was held. More than 3000 detainees’ relatives and MB members and tens reporters gathered outside the court room in the Haikstep military base in Cairo’s suburbs awaiting verdicts, but the sentencing session was adjourned till March 25th.
Detainees have been held in custody for 15 months, despite four acquittals by civilian courts deeming their detention as groundless and politically motivated. Verdicts are expected only a few days before the municipal elections, hence using detainees as a bargaining card to exercise pressure on the MB leadership during elections’ campaigns. Will Egypt’s regime succeed in pressuring MB?
No official notice of adjournment, No session held
Abdul Moneim Abdul Maqsoud, chairman of defence team, confirmed in a statement after adjourned session that “the tribunal did not officially inform us the session is adjourned…the session was not held in the first place, and no detainees or defendants stood before the trial session. It is illegal to adjourn without holding a session to do so.”
Adjournment and the new sentence date confirm the political nature of the trial. Tribunal judges are military officers, sworn in to obey orders of their seniors. They lack legal and structural autonomy, as well as judicial immunity, and the court therefore lacks guarantees of a fair trial, added Abdul Maqsoud.
When asked why the session was adjourned, he said:” This case is politically motivated. The reason for adjourning it can’t be defined. It is a case that has witnessed 70 sessions taking place over an entire year and no verdict has been issued it. Had judges been enjoying independence, they would have released detainees from the very first session, especially after we revealed massive violations, forgery and thefts committed in the sequestered items of the case. If it weren’t politically motivated, it wouldn’t have been referred to a military tribunal even after four civilian court acquittals.”
Abdul Maqsoud asserted that it is difficult to know whether the next session will witness the conclusion of the case. He added that in the 2002 military case, the first sentencing session was held in February, but verdicts only came out on July, 30th. It is certain that the regime is using the case to pressure the MB ahead of municipal elections, yet the MB will never be affected. The case will never force the Muslim Brotherhood to withdraw from elections.
The adjournment is politically motivated, domestic and international pressures have no effect on the regime
Essam El-Erian, chairman of MB political bureau, confirmed to Ikhwanweb that adjourning the verdict is a political decision aiming at pressuring the group’s political decisions ahead of the municipal elections. Therefore, it is expected that the sentencing session may be adjourned again till elections come to a close.
He added that the regime illustrates no respect for media, domestic or human rights pressure and it will issue the rulings it wants against the Muslim Brotherhood leaders. It exploits this trial to cause as much loss as it can against political rivals. Thus, the verdict will only come out in the atmosphere that it sees as suitable. Adjournments will continue till other events distract people.
El-Erian asserted that adjourning sentences also serves denying the group any possible popular sympathy which may help it in the municipal elections. Military tribunal is nothing like civilian courts, and its rulings are politically motivated and lack legal basis. The decision of referring MB leaders to a military tribunal was a purely political decision.
Sentencing Session related to regime’s need in confrontation with MB
Amr Al Shobki, an expert at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said the adjournment suggests that the regime wants to issue sentences after the elections or, if verdicts were issued on March, 25th, it will be after it becomes sure that there will be a weak or no competition in the municipal elections. This is because the municipal elections don’t draw a high turnout among registered voters. If this happened, the regime will feel that it doesn’t need the military case for bargaining with the Brotherhood during the elections battle.
Al Shobki added that the regime may be still hesitant about the verdicts it wants to issue against MB leaders and there is a grey area in this aspect. “However, I am not optimistic and I see that the rulings in this case may be similar to those issued in the 1995 military case. The regime may adjourn the verdicts till no or minimum reaction is expected,” he said.
He rejected the argument of verdicts being adjourned to prevent sympathy with MB candidates in municipal elections. “Municipal elections do not witness a high voter turnout, especially that there will be no clear political battle as the Muslim Brotherhood candidates will run as independents without their traditional slogan ‘Islam is the solution’.”
He asserted the regime adjourned the sentencing session for political reasons, after the MB declared it plans to field 40 thousand candidates in municipal elections. This decision sends a message that the MB’s level of participation is not affected by regime pressures.
Adjournment is a chance given by the regime to the Muslim Brotherhood to reconsider its election methods
Diaa Rashwan, Islamic groups expert at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, asserted his astonishment by the adjournment decision. “It was clear at first that the military tribunals had no relation with the municipal elections, but mere coincidence led to creating some kind of relation between them,” he said.
There are reciprocal pressures between the regime and the MB according to Rashwan, who attributed the MB’s decision of running for the coming municipal as a confirmation from the group that whether these rulings are lenient or tough, it will take part in the elections.
The regime adapted to the MB’s decision by adjourning the sentencing session, thus giving the group a chance to reconsider its campaigning methods, and not the decision of participating in the elections. This time will witness direct or indirect messages between the MB and the regime, and the final verdict may be a result of this mutual dialogue.
Rashwan added that domestic and international pressure and successful media campaigns are not the reason behind the adjournment. He added that “the media campaign launched by MB for this trial is undoubtedly successful, but its effect is marginal because the verdict is governed by the will of both parties (regime and MB). Public opinion is already upset due to the deteriorating conditions including price hikes and other issues, so campaigns will change nothing about that.”
He condemned transferring the case to a military tribunal, asserting that “the military has been dragged into an arena which it shouldn’t be involved in. We respect the military justice and the military establishment but it should not intervene in political issues. Such involvement may harm the high level of respect enjoyed by the military establishment.
We don’t seek change in military justice, we demand civilians not referred to military justice
Rashwan added that the regime’s decision to refer civilian MB detainees to a military tribunal is a mistake that should have never taken place, adding that “MB should never commit the same mistake of dragging military justice into this political disagreement. I hope that the MB doesn’t speak about the military justice as an opponent.”
He confirmed that military justice is handling the case in a way only suitable for cases against military personnel and not civilians. He criticized holding all 70 sessions behind closed doors with no media or observers’ presence, and criticized the unchallengeable nature of its verdicts.
Rashwan added that while “this is the nature of the military justice anywhere, military justice is only assigned to trying members of the military, and not civilians.”