A brief history of the death penalty in Egypt

Zeinab El-Gundy, Monday 24 Mar 2014

How does Monday's mass death sentence for 529 people fit into the country's modern history of the death penalty?

sayed qotb trail
MB Sayed Qotb (right) on trial in 1965 (Photo: Al-Ahram Weekly archive)

Backed by its constitution, which considers Islamic Sharia its main source of legislation, Egypt is one of 40 countries worldwide not to have abolished capital punishment from its penal code.

According to local and international reports, at least 709 people were sentenced to death in civilian courts between 1981 and 2000, with only 249 of them reaching execution.

From 1992 to 2001, no less than 94 people were sentenced to death in terrorism-related charges in military and state security courts – at least 67 of whom were executed.

A relative increase in capital punishment became noticeable from 2009 to 2012. In 2010, 136 death sentences were pronounced, though it is unclear how many of them were carried out. At least one of the 115 death sentences from 2011 was implemented. In 2012, 91 people were sentenced to death – how many were executed is unclear, however.

In March 2013, a Port Said criminal court sentenced 21 people to death in connection with the Port Said Stadium killings. In February 2014, the court accepted the appeal and a retrial of the case began.

Capital punishment resurfaced in the news following the violent dispersal of the pro-Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins at Rabaa Al-Adaweya and Nahda Square in August 2013. When violence spread across the country after the dispersal, public figures argued that the death penalty was a necessary tool in Egypt's escalating battle with what the government has labeled terrorists.

There are no official numbers about death sentences handed out in 2013.

Earlier in March, a Cairo criminal court sentenced 26 defendants to death in a terrorism case known in the media as the "Suez Canal cell," a trial that dates back to 2010.

The defendants were tried in absentia on charges including planning attacks on ships passing through the Suez Canal, manufacturing missiles and explosives to carry out attacks, monitoring and planning to attack security targets along with possession of guns, automatic rifles, explosives and ammunition.

The 26 defendants were charged with planning attacks on the Suez Canal, but were released due to lack of evidence. They were then referred to court in November 2013.

On Monday, a Minya court sentenced 529 people to death over the murder of a police officer in what is considered the biggest mass death sentence in the history of the Egyptian criminal court.

In 1954, following a failed assassination attempt on President Gamal Abdel-Nasser in Alexandria, seven leading Brotherhood members including the group's guide Hassan El-Houdaiby were sentenced to death. The sentence was later reduced for El-Houdaiby, who was eventually released. In 1964, Nasser's regime launched a huge campaign against the Brotherhood and arrested a great number of its leaders and members, including the influential Islamist thinker Sayed Qotb.

Qotb and other five other leading members were sentenced to death for plotting to assassinate Nasser. They were executed in 1966.

In 1982, five members of the radical Islamic Jihad movement including Khaled El-Islamboly received the death sentence for the assassination of president Anwar Sadat. The sentence was carried out in April 1982.

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