In Egypt, 683 people are standing trial in one of the biggest death-sentence round ups in history. They are accused of causing instability, killing military guards, civilians and arson in the wake of the military take over that ousted former President Morsi.
The group implicated? The Muslim Brotherhood. While many are quick to dismiss the crackdown on the Brotherhood on the basis of them being Ďhard line Islamists,í letís take a quick look at who the group is, why they formed, and where they are today.
To make this trip we need to send ourselves back to Egypt in the 1920s. The government and nation was undergoing considerable strife, as the English-led government wrangled for control of the Suez Canal. As negotiations failed, English authorities imposed martial law on the country, cracking down on protests and demonstrations.
It was out of this atmosphere the Muslim Brotherhood was born.
Hassan Al Banna, the founder of the Brotherhood, grew up with a nationalistic spirit. He dreamed of an independent Egypt, and used social welfare to push his rallying cry. Establishing schools, pharmacies and health clinics, he won the affections of many.
Their charitable work combined with a nationalistic message soon made the Brotherhood a formidable political force. From the 1930s-1950s, they gained in power and took part in struggles both in Egypt and in the British Mandate of Palestine. However, this is not to say they didnít have issues within the ranks. During WWII they helped drum up anti-Semitic feelings across the country, and were known for participating in a number of arsons and attacks.
As the political landscape of Egypt shifted, the Brotherhood went through crackdown after crackdown, imprisonment and exile. Governments had good reason to fear them, as they were implicated in a number of assassination attempts and political uprisings within Egyptís dictatorial regimes.
In the 1980s, they saw a large influx of students, and their influence seemed to be in the rise. This was met again with repression, but this time their numbers were too considerable. Gaining seats in the Parliament, they became notorious for spouting archaic beliefs on women. One member even went so far as to say that if a woman is beaten, she shares in the blame ďat least 30-40 percent.Ē
Meanwhile, in 2011, Egypt underwent a dramatic revolution that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak. After a time, Muhammad Morsi became the first democratically elected Egyptian President in its entire history. The Muslim Brotherhood supported Morsi, although certainly the President often found himself strategically distancing his position from that of the Brotherhood.
In June 2013, the people of Egypt rallied together to demand Morsi leave office. Crackdowns on press, restructuring of the constitution giving Morsi unlimited power, and Islamic referendums had caused protests around the nation. The military, in support of the populist opinion, gave the administration 48 hours to comply with the wishes of the people. Morsi rejected the ultimatum and a number of crackdowns resulting in massive casualties took place.
It was during that chaos that the Muslim Brotherhood was implicated in a number of crimes, from killing military personal to burning down churches. However, the Egyptian military was also witnessed shooting into crowds of peaceful protesters and disrupting vigils. In the end, the Egyptian military won out, installing an interim government. Elections in May are set to take place and favor the general who ousted the former President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
While there has been speculation about the actual numbers of Brotherhood members involved in the chaos, one thing is sure: the current government is instituting an unprecedented crackdown.
The international community has condemned the mass sentencing of Brotherhood members.
However, itís important to keep in mind that it isn’t just the Brotherhood that Egyptís government is going after. Secular activists are also feeling the heat. The April 6th Youth Movement, a religion-free pro democracy movement has also had its offices shut down on espionage charges.
The truth of it is, when we disregard one groupís civil rights simply because we disagree with them personally, we open ourselves up to civil rights violations on all fronts. The old adage ďI disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say itĒ has been a central tenant of how we measure true freedom. It also goes to show that the Egyptian government is a long way from restoring liberty and order.
While many of us may disagree with the stance of the Muslim Brotherhood, and for legitimate reason, killing them en masse is not the solution. Rather, its likely to bring more chaos and disruption to Egypt, and its burgeoning movement towards true democracy.