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editorial

Truth and reconciliation, not show trials, will bolster Egypt

The cycle of political violence has become all too familiar in Egypt. Supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi have been systematically beaten, arrested, and killed. Amnesty International estimates that more than 1,000 Muslim Brotherhood members have lost their lives at the hands of security forces.

The crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood appears to have triggered waves of revenge attacks on security forces and Coptic Christians. Islamic militants in the Sinai ambushed minibuses full of off-duty policemen. Dozens of churches have been burned. In this charged atmosphere, Morsi’s trial, which is scheduled to begin today, will only add fuel to the fire.

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Prosecutors have yet to fully outline the charges against Morsi, but he has been accused of escaping from jail in the early days of the Arab Spring uprising — before he became president — and ordering protesters who demonstrated against him during his rule to be tortured or killed. There are good reasons to be skeptical about both sets of allegations. The alleged jailbreak occurred at a time when many prisoners were walking free because guards abandoned their posts. And the deaths of protesters occurred after security forces declined to protect Morsi inside the presidential palace, forcing him to rely on the Muslim Brotherhood’s own militia for protection. If that militia responded violently to anti-Morsi demonstrators, as they appear to have done, it should be held responsible. But it is still unclear how much blame lies with Morsi himself.

Morsi’s treatment stands in stark contrast to that of former president Hosni Mubarak, who was convicted in the deaths of protesters during his presidency but has received a new trial on appeal. Security officials have declined to pass on evidence against him. One even claimed to have broken the CD that recorded presidential orders. The accusations against Mubarak are likely to simply fade away.

The spectacle of two ousted presidents standing trial at the same time in Egypt shows how sick the country’s body politic has become. In a sign that the justice system itself may be feeling discomfort with the nakedly political role it is being asked to play, three judges overseeing the trial of the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader recently recused themselves citing “reasons of conscience.” To save itself, Egypt needs to end this cycle of violence. Egyptians need a truth and reconciliation process to expose all the political crimes, not just those blamed on whichever faction has fallen out of power.

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