Over decades of authoritarian rule in Egypt, and into the recent years of upheaval, one segment of the state enjoyed a reputation for maintaining a considerable degree of independence. In contrast to much of the governing structure, the Egyptian judiciary was willing to challenge the powerful. Its decisions were guided to a large extent by the concept of rule of law. All that is now a thing of the past.
On Monday, an Egyptian judge in the governorate of Minya sentenced to death 680 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, including the group’s top leader. It was a jaw-dropping verdict, reached without any semblance of due process, and it followed a similar mass death sentence—that one against 529 defendants—by just a few weeks.
The verdict, and the international outcry it produced, came at a particularly awkward moment. When it was announced, Egypt’s foreign minister was in Washington, urging a restoration of American aid by trying to persuade the U.S. that Egypt is making progress on the path toward democracy.