- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2014

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.

Egypt will hold elections in May. Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the former army chief who ousted Mr. Morsi on July 3 after massive anti-government protests, is expected to easily win the vote.

Mr. Morsi’s ouster strained ties between Washington and Cairo.

Addressing a Washington think tank audience Monday, Mr. Fahmy said the U.S. and Egypt have diverging interpretations of the crisis.

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.

Egypt’s interim rulers, backed by the military, have outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood and thrown its leaders, including Mr. Morsi behind bars. A number of journalists have also been detained and human rights groups shut down.

Yet, the Obama administration last week resumed some military and counterterrorism assistance to Egypt saying that it had certified that Egypt is upholding its 35-year-old peace treaty with Israel. The decision cleared the way for the U.S. to release 10 Apache helicopters to Egypt.

“The United States is sending a clear message to Cairo — that the U.S.-Egypt security relationship, especially focused on counterterrorism and the counterterrorism campaign in the Sinai, remains critically important,” said Amy Hawthorne, senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

“By holding back other military aid for democracy reasons, the administration is also sending a second message that it is not completely comfortable with the political direction Egypt is taking, but unfortunately this message is muddled and essentially overshadowed by other actions,” she added.

Mr. Fahmy, who meets Secretary of State John Kerry Tuesday, delivered a thinly veiled warning to Washington to keep out of Egypt’s business.

“One thing should remain abundantly clear: Egypt’s domestic transition and our politics will be decided by Egyptians,” he said.

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