An Egyptian court has sentenced 188 people to death by hanging for their alleged involvement in a riot which killed 14 policemen.
This is the most recent of a series of mass death sentences for political crimes.
Over a thousand Egyptians charged with offences related to political unrest have been condemned to death this year alone. The military government is tightening its strangle hold on political life, absolving its allies and crushing its opponents in the process.
The court’s decision came just days after the former dictator Hosni Mubarak and seven of his security chiefs were cleared of responsibility for the killing of 239 people during the protests that overthrew Mubarak’s government in 2011. Mubarak remains in prison, but this is due to inconvenient evidence of a massive embezzlement of public funds, and not because of the brutal violence with which his government attempted to cling to power.
Most of those sentenced to death last week are thought to be members or supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the right-wing Islamist movement that was toppled by the army last year. Hundreds more are in prison waiting for their trials. Some of them have now been waiting for a year.
The recent batch of death sentences were handed out under extremely dubious circumstances – defence lawyers were not given proper time to present their cases, and the judge flagrantly ignored what evidence they were allowed to present. The defendants were examined and sentenced as a bloc, with little effort made to distinguish whether particular individuals had been involved in the rioting or not.
The Muslim Brotherhood is a deeply reactionary organisation, no friend of the left, of democrats or of the oppressed. But the systematic repression that is being meted out to its supporters is part and parcel with a general anti-democratic, authoritarian push by the new regime to criminalise opposition to the state, and to let the murderous officials of the Mubarak regime off the hook.
This drive affects socialists and working-class activists as well. It must be opposed by the international left.