Once again and in a little less than a month the US organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) has placed itself on a collision course with the Egyptian government and judiciary over capital punishment for convicted terrorists.
The US-based organisation has criticised the death sentences passed on nine members of the Muslim Brotherhood, carried out in February, as a result of their conviction for the assassination of late Egyptian attorney-general Hisham Barakat in June 2015.
Barakat was the highest-profile official to be assassinated since speaker of parliament Refaat Al-Mahgoub was assassinated in 1990 by the Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya group, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The horrific explosion that rocked the peaceful Cairo neighbourhood of Heliopolis, killing the attorney-general and injuring nine others, left much destruction behind it. The imprint of the Muslim Brotherhood was on the crime, with the group wishing to send a message of terror to the government.
During his own trial at the same time, ousted former president Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Brotherhood, was seen gesturing with his hands as if giving an order to slaughter.
The death penalty is a controversial subject that has been widely debated in many modern societies. On the one hand, some believe that it delivers justice to the victim’s family as well as upholding the rule of law, while others view it as an act of vengeance and prefer lifetime prison sentences instead.
The debate about the viability of the death penalty may continue indefinitely, but the fact remains that it is practised in some 55 countries in the world today, including the United States and Japan, both of which are regarded as liberal democracies.
The US applies the death penalty extensively, and even liberal US states such as California still apply the death penalty for murder. Some 30 US states currently apply the death penalty.
During times of national emergency or warfare, stricter laws and harsher penalties are often introduced to protect society from those threatening its security or carrying out terrorist crimes.
In 1996, former US president Bill Clinton enacted an anti-terrorism and effective death penalty act to facilitate the work of US law-enforcement officials in identifying and prosecuting domestic and international terrorists.
Evidently, this act was not sufficient to protect the US from the horrific acts on 9/11 that took place five years later. President George W Bush then signed the controversial patriot act into law in 2001 that provided unprecedented powers to the US security apparatus to fight terrorism.
In the same year, Bush declared a “war on terrorism” and launched a massive war in Afghanistan that is still going on over 17 years later.
Similar harsher laws were introduced in France in 2017 following a wave of deadly attacks by the Islamic State (IS) group on French soil that left dozens of people dead and stirred fear in the hearts of the French people.
These laws are so strict that even an Internet post supporting IS can render its account holder liable to a lengthy jail sentence in France.
Like in the US, capital punishment has always been part of the criminal law in Egypt to punish premeditated murder, terrorism and acts of high treason. The nine executed terrorists came from a total of 28 people convicted for plotting and executing the bombing that led to Barakat’s death.
Six had their sentences reduced from the death penalty to life in prison and 17 others were sentenced to long prison terms. A further two dozen other suspects were released after the court found them not guilty.
Yet, even with written and video confessions of the convicted Muslim Brotherhood assassins to hand and photographs of them wearing jihadist attire and carrying explosive belts and assault rifles, HRW is still apparently not convinced that justice is being done in the handling of terrorism cases in Egypt.
It has condemned the death sentences that were passed and issued its traditional message of demanding that the government stop the use of capital punishment.
HRW has hardly issued any condemnations of those carrying out terrorist crimes in Egypt over the past seven years, and instead it has dedicated its efforts to tainting Egypt’s efforts to counter the harshest wave of terrorist activities that has been seen in the country’s long history.
Obviously, HRW’s role as the terrorists’ attorney does not serve justice in any shape or form. While it is important to stress the importance of applying due process in all trials, including counter-terrorism ones, it is not up to HRW to decide the course of action and penalties that another country should follow if that country applies due process and fair trials.
HRW and the London-based organisation Amnesty International treat Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist statements alleging victimisation and torture and protesting innocence as if they were true, despite the fact that these reports depend upon unverified testimonials and broadly false statements from these jihadist groups.
They seem not to understand that this has been the strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood since its first confrontation with the Egyptian state in the 1940s and the assassinations it carried out at that time, including of former prime minister Mahmoud Al-Nokrashi in 1948.
The howling voices of the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies neglect the fact that the law in Egypt, mainly based on French law, allows for several degrees of litigation, indictment and appeal. It is a far cry from the strict Sharia Law that the Muslim Brotherhood group and other jihadists are demanding.
Ironically, if the Egyptian state decided to apply the laws the terrorists are demanding and fighting for, those terrorists would cease to exist within a few months. Luckily for them, the secular laws are the ones that are applicable for terrorist crimes in Egypt.
All this leads to the question of why the lives and welfare of terrorists and the murderers of the innocent should remain the priority of many foreign human-rights organisations along with various foreign governments over those of the victims.
Western governments and organisations are free to apply their own set of rules within their own countries, even if this means that they prioritise the welfare and the lives of convicted terrorists over those of their own citizens.
This is entirely the prerogative of such governments, and it should not concern Egyptian decision-makers who have sworn an oath to protect the lives and welfare of Egyptian citizens.
However, Egyptian decision-makers should be urged to present the facts to Western public opinion nonetheless, using all the means necessary in order not to leave the ground wide open for Islamist propaganda machines such as the Aljazeera TV network and human-rights organisations with questionable track records such as HRW.
The eradication of terrorism, the upholding of the law and the serving of justice for all Egyptians must remain the top priority of the Egyptian government so that its people can survive today’s unprecedented waves of terrorism.
* The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.