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Seif Da’na, Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, says the former Egyptian President Morsi’s death sentence and that of one-hundred others, has two dimensions: domestic and regional.

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: This is The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. An Egyptian court has sentenced former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically-elected president of Egypt and a hundred others to death for the 2011 mass jailbreak. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood claims that the verdict is being issued against protesters who participated in the January 25th revolution that was Arab Spring, demanding the overthrow of President Mubarak. Turkish President Erdogan and United States and the EU have denounced this verdict, as has Amnesty International. The sentence is provisional until June 2nd, when the most senior religious authorities, and primarily the Grand Mufti, will announce his final decision. With us to discuss all of this is Seif Da’na, professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. He is also associate editor of Arab Studies Quarterly, and contributor to a well-known publication, Al-Ahram Weekly. Professor Da’na, thank you so much for joining us today. SEIF DA’NA, CHAIR, SOCIOLOGY & ANTHROPOLOGY, UWP: Thank you for having me. PERIES: Professor Da’na, this appears to be a part of a larger crackdown against Muslim Brotherhood and anyone who is critical of the Sisi government. What is your understanding of all of this? DA’NA: Well, the sentencing has two dimensions, really. One is domestic, and essentially it’s a part of the conflict between the Egyptian authorities and the Muslim Brotherhood as a movement. And of course, it’s intended to suppress any dissent, or to use that sentencing as a warning to any possible dissent in the future, whether from the Muslim Brotherhood or others. But also it has a regional dimension, because the Muslim Brotherhood is not only an Egyptian domestic force, it’s also a regional power. And the allies of the Muslim Brotherhood, especially Qatar, Turkey, and also Hamas in Palestine and Gaza have some very tense relations with the Egyptian authorities at this point. So this is part of the regional conflict between Egypt on one side and Turkey and Qatar on the other side. And also the other aspect is the domestic one. But clearly, the ruling is, the sentencing is very political. I mean, nobody can doubt that, especially if it is compared to what happened actually with Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for over 30 years, and essentially he was found innocent by the Egyptian courts. But there is still [room], and I think the Egyptian legal procedures would enable Sisi, General Sisi, in the future to actually go either direction. Either with carrying out the sentencing, which seems unlikely at this point, or decide against it essentially, or go in the other direction. Not–that is, to not carry out the sentencing. Basically that would depend on the domestic Egyptian conditions and the regional conditions from now until probably November, because there is a UN, the UN Council on Human Rights will be meeting in November. And I think the Egyptian–Egypt will be one of the topics that it will discuss. And therefore it’s very flexible. I mean, the ruling, the procedures, the legal procedures enable Sisi to–will give Sisi the flexibility to do anything he wishes, at that point. PERIES: Now, the Grand Mufti has until June 2nd. What do you think will happen between now and then? And what role does the religious authority play in terms of judicial decisions of this sort? DA’NA: Well, the Grand Mufti has–I mean, the role of the Grand Mufti is part of the protocol. But it’s more really ceremonial rather than really a real power in this case. In the event that there is a contradiction between–or if the Grand Mufti disagrees with the judge, then according to the regulations the ruling of the judge will be affirmed. Usually there is no disagreement. But in the event that the Grant Mufti disagrees the only possible option is to go to the next step. Which is–and anyway, they’re going to go there according to the regulation, which is moving to the next step. Which is the court of appeals. And in this case, even if the court of appeals confirms the ruling, and the Grand Mufti still disagrees with that, the primacy goes for the judge’s ruling, not for the Grand Mufti. But at the end of the day, a ruling of this nature requires the confirmation of the president of the Republic, in this case Sisi. So the Grant Mufti’s role is more adding an additional aspect of legitimacy to the ruling, but it is not really essential. It’s part of the regulations, but his role is, I mean, doesn’t–he cannot really cancel the ruling of the judge. So the judge has more primacy in this issue than the Grand Mufti. But at the end of the day, as I said, it’s up to the president of the Republic to confirm or to not confirm the ruling. PERIES: So in this decision, the judiciary is playing a role in silencing dissent. I mean, what evidence did they really find that Morsi and these hundred others now convicted and sentenced to death had actually done what the court finds them guilty of? DA’NA: Well as I said at the beginning, the ruling is clearly political. Because we have at least five Palestinians included in the list of 100 people who were sentenced to death. Five of them were actually–are actually already dead. Some of them since 2008 and 2009. One of them has been in the Israeli prison since 1996. So obviously the ruling was not very careful. Of course, as I said at the beginning, it wasn’t–including Palestinians in this case was intended as a sign against Hamas, as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region. So they were not really careful. And if we compare that to the procedures that went against, the legal–the court of Mubarak, before. Where many of the evidence were neglected, many of the events were neglected. This is not really a serious issue. They were not really serious in this case. As I said, it’s political. But what is really important here is that Morsi has been already sentenced to 20 years for another case last month. Or a few weeks ago. So in the event that the authorities in Egypt decide that they’re not going to carry out the sentence, it might–it won’t mean anything to Morsi, really, essentially, because he would remain in prison because of the other case. So either way, the authorities would have Morsi in prison anyway. PERIES: Now, the U.S. has expressed its concern, in quotes, over the sentencing. Could you speak to the diplomatic and military effects this is going to have in terms of the relationship with the United States? DA’NA: I think the relationships with the United States between, during the Sisi regime or with the beginning of the Sisi regime, did undergo some changes in the sense that we can sense some sort of tension in the relationship. Sisi has been trying to diversify Egypt’s foreign relations, especially with Russia and other countries. But of course the U.S. remains the main power in the region, and Sisi knows that. And Egypt is very interested in a good relationship with the U.S. under Sisi. However, Sisi understands that, and that’s what a lot of commentators in the region really believe, that the U.S. was actually supporting or interested in the Muslim Brotherhood movement in the region, after they came to power in Egypt in 2013 and Tunisia in 2012. And even they’re talking about, even conspiracies, if you like, between the U.S. and the Muslim Brotherhood. Of course, some of this is nonsense. But the issue here is, as I said, Sisi uses his conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood and his attack–not only on the Muslim–well, specifically on the Muslim Brotherhood, as part of this regional conflict that has been going on and is intended to shape the whole region. The Muslim Brotherhood is a major force in the struggle over the future of the region, and what kind of Middle East we will have. The region is in a state of formation, or in the phase of being, formation, at this point. We’re witnessing the formation of a new region. And the Muslim Brotherhood are a major force in this. Not only in Egypt, but also outside Egypt. And this is why what happens in Egypt will have really regional implications as well. That’s why Qatar and Turkey are very vocal against the Egyptian authorities in this case. The issue here, as I said, is not about really, it’s not really humanitarian concern for Morsi or for the 100, the list of 100 other people as much as it’s part of this regional conflict. And since 1991 really in the region, what we’ve been seeing is that every domestic event seems to be by implication a regional event, because–especially after the collapse of the socialist camp and the Soviet Union, we don’t have two regional, two international powers. We only have the U.S., and all conflicts and all tensions are interconnected. So anything domestic would necessarily become regional. And in this case, the Muslim Brotherhood is a good example, especially that they are an Egyptian domestic force and also a regional force. PERIES: And what do you think will be the domestic implications of this sentencing? Arab Spring is still fresh in people’s mind, and there is enormous support for Muslim Brotherhood in the country. After all, he was the first democratically elected president of Egypt. DA’NA: We have already seen some escalations after the sentencing. Three judges were assassinated. And a fourth judge, the assassination of a fourth judge, who is–the fourth one is connected, actually, to one of the cases against the Muslim Brotherhood. Against one of the rulings against the Muslim Brotherhood. Failed. The security discovered that attempt before it was carried out. So it would necessarily lead to escalation. Not only in Egypt, but also in the region as well. That–if the sentencing was carried out. Now, as I said, it seems at this point given the regional and Egyptian conditions unlikely that Sisi would go, or the Egyptian authority would go for, would carry out this sentencing. But we don’t know how things will unfold from now until maybe November, because after the assassination of the four judges the Egyptian authorities carried out the death sentence against six of the Islamist activists in Egypt. In some way, the way it was carried out was a violation of the Egyptian legal regulations. And it seemed like a reaction to the assassination of the three judges three days ago. So at this point, all options are open before the Egyptian authorities. It seems unlikely given the current conditions, because they know it would lead to escalation. We’ve already seen signs of escalation after the sentencing. And the Muslim Brotherhood is a strong Egyptian force. They would have to think many times before they carry out this sentencing. But also, other forces in Egypt see that as a sign of suppressing dissent of all forms in Egypt. Especially that Sisi has been in power almost a year. He will be in power almost a year. And he–there are no achievements for the Egyptian authorities at this point. And the only thing that he can present is facing terrorism, this idea of terrorism in Egypt and in [inaud.] in particular. But there is nothing else that can Sisi actually talk about, any kind of achievement that Sisi can actually present to the Egyptian public. So this comes convenient, really, to blame the Muslim Brotherhood, to blame any form of other dissent for all the troubles of Egypt to avoid any blame for the Egyptian current conditions by the people of Egypt against Morsi. PERIES: And finally, Professor Da’na, what is the role of Saudi Arabia in all of this? DA’NA: Well, Saudi Arabia was essentially part of the anti-Muslim Brotherhood campaign until the war on Yemen started. And until the new king took power after the death of King Abdullah recently. They kind of changed course. The primary target for the Saudi policies at this point is their conflict or tension with Iran, in particular, which is the regional one, really. So in this case, they needed in their coalition to include Qatar, to include Turkey in their coalition. And Qatar and Turkey are primary supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. Actually, the Muslim Brotherhood has been Qatar and Turkey’s most important tool in their regional power, and regional conflict. So Saudi Arabia had to change course because their target now is Iran, not the Muslim Brotherhood. And their coalition is really interesting, because it includes Egypt on the other side, the Sisi regime, which is engaging in a serious conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood, and Turkey and Qatar on the other side. What Sisi did really in this sentencing, or what the Egyptian authorities did in this sentencing, was also sending a message to members of this coalition. Saudi Arabia doesn’t mind, really, suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood. They have, actually they were part of the suppression not only of the Muslim Brotherhood but all other dissent in the region. But at this point I think their main concern is Iran. Their main concern is the war in Yemen. And they’re interested in any force that will join them. And Egypt is an important force. They want Egypt to be on their side. And that’s why they will not criticize the Egyptian authorities at this point. But also they’re interested in Turkey and Qatar as well. So they’re in a very critical position, and I don’t expect that they will actually take a side or take a position at this point, with or against the sentencing. Because they don’t want to alienate Egypt, an important force, especially if they are planning to go for a ground war with Yemen. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future in the war on Yemen. And also they need Turkey’s support. They need Qatar’s support as part of the Gulf states in the region. So they’re in this critical situation at this point. But until the war in Yemen started, Saudi Arabia was part of the war on the Muslim Brotherhood, and part of the war on any kind of dissent in the region. PERIES: Professor Da’na, thank you so much for joining us today. DA’NA: Thank you. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Seif Da'na is Professor and Chair of the Sociology and Anthropology Department at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. He specializes in the Middle East and North Africa.