The Obama administration and the U.N. reacted with alarm on Monday after an Egyptian judge sentenced the spiritual guide of the Muslim Brotherhood and more than 680 others to death for inciting and committing violence that led to the death of one police officer.
The judge’s decision, delivered after a speedy trial, came just days after the Obama administration resumed some aid to Egypt, which was suspended after that country’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, was ousted by the military last summer.
The White House and State Department expressed displeasure at the court order on Monday and the use of mass trials and sentencing, which they said do not meet the most basic standards of justice.
“Today’s preliminary death sentences against 683 defendants and the upholding of death sentences against 37 defendants from a March 25 decision are unconscionable,” said State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki.
The court decisions “run counter to the most basic democratic principles and foster the instability, extremism, and radicalization that Egypt’s interim government says it seeks to resolve,” she added.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Egypt’s leaders “must take a stand against this illogical action and dangerous precedent, recognizing that the repression of peaceful dissent will fuel the instability and radicalization that Egypt says it wishes to prevent.”
And a spokesman for U. N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “alarmed” by the verdicts, which “are likely to undermine prospects for long-term stability.”
Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, on a visit to Washington this week, denied that the judge had handed down death sentences to 683 people, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual guide Mohamed Badie. The judge had merely asked for an opinion from the top Islamic cleric, Mr. Fahmy told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Monday.
A separate court in Cairo, meanwhile, banned the pro-democracy April 6 Youth Movement that helped topple longtime leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
While the Obama administration does not call Mr. Morsi’s ouster a coup, it suspended hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid, including defense equipment and cash assistance, to Egypt in October. The suspension was intended to nudge the interim government in Cairo to pave the way for an inclusive, democratically elected government.
In the U.S., it is seen as a political standoff that should be resolved by political means, while most Egyptians see it as an “existential” struggle over the country’s identity, he said.
“The wave of terrorism that has intensified in the wake of the overthrow of the Brotherhood regime only reinforced the existential nature of this struggle in the minds of Egyptians, a reality that seems to have eluded many in the West,” Mr. Fahmy said.