Given the rise of death sentences issued by Egyptian courts over the past four years – typically for members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group and criminals proven to have perpetrated offensive crimes – many politicians and both local and international human rights organizations have echoed the necessity to suspend the death penalty in Egypt, and replace it with a life imprisonment sentence.
However, other politicians, such members of the Parliament, have refused to suspend the death penalty, as they consider it a deterrent for criminals who threaten people’s lives and state national security.
The History of the Death Penalty in Egypt
The death penalty in Egypt stems from Islamic Sharia law – a main source of legislation for the Egyptian constitution.
As there is no documentation indicating the introduction of the death penalty to Egyptian courts, it is hard to specify exactly when the first application of that penalty took place; however several human rights organizations’ data trace the death penalty in Egypt as far back as 1906.
According to the aforementioned data, Egyptian courts have executed more than 1,500 death sentences since 1906, 1,168 of which were issued by criminal courts for murder crimes, while 182 verdicts were issued for political crimes such as espionage, assassination and establishing outlawed secret organizations.
The Parliament’s Stance
International human rights organizations have urged Egypt to reconsider suspending the implementation of the death penalty, to which the head of the Parliament’s Human Rights Committee, Alaa Abed, issued a statement in response showing clear refusal, arguing that Islamic Sharia law dictates it.
“The death penalty is only sentenced to those who kill innocent people,” Abed said in the statement.
“If we suspended it, victims’ rights would suffer.”
“Given that the death penalty comes from Sharia law and Quranic verses, there is no one – no matter their position in the state – has the power to suspend it,” Professor of Al-Azhar University Bakr Zaki told Egypt Independent.
However, Bakr noted that Islam regards human life more than any human rights organization could, and hence grants the victim’s family the right to pardon the killer or receive financial compensation.
Conversely, he claims that sentencing murderers to death is only “fair”, claiming that,”Islam dictates that anyone who kills an innocent person should also be killed. Why do human rights organizations want us to take into consideration the killer’s psychological status and ignore the victim’s and their family’s rights to seek justice?”
Implementation of death verdicts in Egypt
The issuance of the death penalty in Egypt passes several stages before being accredited as a judicial verdict. According to the constitution, the judge who issued the verdict should first seek advice from the Egypt’s Mufti on the sanction. The Mufti – a ‘Grand Muslim Cleric’ – is to assert that the verdict is consistent with the rules of Islam, and that the convicted person has the right to appeal against it.
However, death sentences issued by military courts affiliated with the army do not give the convicted person the right to appeal.
The verdict is then referred to the president for ratification; however, the president may grant a lighter sanction, such as a life sentence, or even pardon the defendant.
If the the verdict is ratified, a written order from Egypt’s general prosecutor is issued in order to proceed with the execution, as stipulated by article number 470 of the criminal measures code.
On implementation day, the convicted is brought to the place of the execution, and the verdict document is narrated in the presence of a prosecutor, a doctor from the prison and the prison director.
The execution differs for those sentenced by a military court, and those who received the sentence from civil court. According to the rules of military courts, those who are sentenced to death are to be shot with machine guns, whereas sentenced by the civil court are to be hung.