Egypt's justice system kills justice and people

Egypt's broken criminal justice system has confirmed death sentences on 183 political opponents and sentenced journalists to years in prison on trumped up charges. The trials were a joke, but the punishments are deadly serious

The reaction outside the court
On 22 June 2014 15:05

On Saturday, an Egyptian court confirmed the death sentence of Dr. Mohamed Badie, the supreme guide of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, and at least 182 of his supporters over charges of attacking a police station in Minya province last year, the same day police and military killed vast numbers of pro-Morsi protesters during clashes in Cairo. 

Saturday's sentencing came after the court’s initial ruling was referred to the state's Grand mufti, Shawki Alaam -- the first step towards imposing a death sentence.

The trial has been described by Human Rights Watch as speedy and lightning.

''Condemning 183 rather than 683 people to die after a cursory and one-sided trial is still a travesty of justice. The punishments are deadly serious, but the trials weren’t,'' said Joe Stork, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director.

In fact, any system of justice requires that trials be maximally fair. This is part of what holds any community together. Crucially, any judicial system must provide a kind of moral and political balance.

The judge-only system in Egypt, however, terribly upsets this balance, making the Egyptian judicial system less fair and more politically biased.

In Egypt, the judge has the role of a strict father. The strict father judge knows everything. He knows right from wrong. He has the power to decide the case. He decides which witnesses are credible. He decides the winner, not on the basis of special training or certification, but rather on opinion alone. He is both peer-reviewer and scientific committee. He is both judge and jury. 

Importantly, the strict father judge decides the official legal truth in the case at hand. That is, he replaces the jury in its main role -- to determine which evidence is germane, to weigh the evidence, to deliberate and consider all the arguments on the foundation of the evidence, and on such a foundation, to decide what is true. In short, he can decide on his own whether to exclude the evidence. 

In short, decisions are made by one individual in a superior position, rather than by a jury of one's peers.

Furthermore, trial law is supposed to result in fairness, minimizing the determinative influence of the political opinions of rich and powerful people. But, because policymakers beholden to powerful political and economic interests can appoint judges to the bench, the Egyptian judicial system allows those interests to have full power to determine the outcomes of a wide range of cases without limit.

As Dr. George Lakoff, distinguished professor of cognitive science, states, “the point of a trial is to guarantee fairness, which is conceptualized metaphorically as balance or symmetry (think of the statue of justice blindfolded and holding the scales).”  But the Egyptian judge-only system breaks the framing of fairness in the trial.

One can easily understand why old and new Egyptian dictators like the judge-only system -- it gives them tremendous power to pursue their personal agendas unchecked. Judges have always had ways of dismissing cases for lack of evidence (think of the al-Salam Boccaccio 98 case).

Finally, under such a system, if you just think of protesting, you will have a life sentence (think of Alaa Abdel-Fattah, an Egyptian activist). But if you actually protest, you will be sentenced to death. This should not intimidate us, because I'm sure that the liberal-democratic revolution will ultimately win.

The writer is an Egyptian poet, actor, and political intellectual. He is also pursuing doctoral research in cognitive science

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