The Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, appears poised to further crack down on dissent after announcing he would fast-track the judicial process in the aftermath of the assassination of the country’s lead prosecutor.
On Tuesday, Sisi promised new laws that will allow Egyptian courts to speed up hearings, and appeared to suggest that the appeals process would be circumvented to guarantee the execution of those on death row.
Speaking at the funeral of Hisham Barakat, the state prosecutor killed in a car bomb on Monday, Sisi said: “The arm of justice is chained by the law. We’re not going to wait for this. We’re going to amend the law to allow us to implement justice as soon as possible.”
Repeating the words “the law, the law”, Sisi added: “If there is a death sentence, a death sentence shall be enforced.” According to the current process, a death sentence can only be enforced after lengthy appeals. But as Egypt has been without a sitting parliament for two years, Sisi – as the country’s sole elected official – can issue laws by decree. As a result, he may technically be able to change the speed at which executions can be completed. Legal experts believe he is already enacting authoritarian laws at a rate not seen in Egypt for 60 years.
The investigation into Barakat’s death has yet to be completed. But by referring to the subject of executions, Sisi appeared to imply that the assassination was carried out by the Muslim Brotherhood, whose leaders – including ex-president Mohamed Morsi – are on death rowpending appeal. Egypt’s public relations arm has already blamed the Brotherhood by name.
But while Barakat was one of the main architects of the crackdown on the Brotherhood – pursuing controversial cases in which thousands of alleged members were arrested, and hundreds sentenced to death in mass trials that lasted just minutes – the group itself has denied responsibility for his death. Analysts believe the murder instead bears the hallmarks of an Isis affiliate in Egypt, which carried out a similar assassination attempt on Egypt’s then interior minister in 2013.
Amnesty International has called on the Egyptian government not to use Barakat’s death “as a pretext for trampling upon human rights”. But Sisi’s speech, as well as wider local reaction, suggest the call may fall on deaf ears. Following Barakat’s death, one of the most popular slogans on Egyptian social media was: “Execute the Brotherhood.”
In a separate development on Tuesday, the Cairo correspondent for the leading Spanish newspaper, El Pais, revealed he had fled from Egypt after being warned by his embassy that he risked arrest. At least 18 journalists are currently behind bars in Egypt, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.