The mass trial of survivors of a massacre of pro-democracy protesters shames Egypt. Western powers should understand how autocracy is eating away at the Arab nation
In democracies governed by the rule of law, it is the perpetrators of a massacre who are tried for murder. In Egypt, it is the survivors who are tried – and in some cases sentenced to death. In democracies governed by the rule of law, trials are fair and prompt; in Egypt the survivors of a massacre can be detained for five years before trial, and then tried in huge groups, with no chance of a proper defence. There is something uniquely grotesque about the recently concluded trial of 739 defendants who were allegedly among the protesters against the military coup that propelled General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to power in 2013.
Some had quite literally been among the protesters, rather than being protesters themselves: the photographer Mahmoud Abu Zeid, known as Shawkan, was simply doing his job as a journalist when he was swept up in the repression. His sentence of five years was greeted with relief when it was handed down this month, since he has already served it. His ongoing treatment remains a stain on Egypt. The photographer must now spend every night for the next five years in a police station, but is free by daylight.