Hosni Mubarak was the president of the Arab Republic of Egypt from 1981 until 2011. His repressive regime was overthrown by the people in 2011, and he was replaced by Mohammad Morsi. Morsi himself was ousted in 2013 by the military, with the support of the people. General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces replaced him, and then resigned from the military, and announced his candidacy for the 2014 Presidential election. The election had only two candidates, and was boycotted by most political parties. He won by a landslide. Countries with military rulers aren’t exactly known for their progressive criminal justice systems, so it will be interesting to see how Egypt’s democratic tradition and recent political turbulence have interacted to create Egypt’s current system.
Egyptian police currently have a somewhat strained relationship with the people. Police brutality and corruption are usually cited as being some of the major causes of the 2011 revolution. Under the authoritarian rule of Mubarak, the police were feared by the people. Protests were put down violently, and it is believed that hundreds, if not over a thousand protesters were killed by police. Since then, the police have lost the respect and fear of the people, and 90 police stations were burned during and in the aftermath of the revolution. In the 2013 revolution, the police, like the military, took the side of the people. In many cases, they even joined demonstrators, rather than trying to stop them. The police have since been trying to regain the trust and respect of the Egyptian people, though there are still cases of brutality and killings.
Egypt’s legal system is a sort of hybrid between Islamic law and the Napoleonic Code. While the Constitution and court precedents grant rights to the accused, “emergency laws” that trump the Constitution allow for many of those rights to be ignored. For example, statements “compelled through physical or moral harm of threat of harm” are not admissible in court. Defendants are also presumed innocent, and have the right to remain silent, and to have the assistance of attorneys at trials and some pre-trial hearings. Egypt also does not have jury trials. Violations and misdemeanors are tried in single-judge courts, while felonies are tried by three-judge courts. They sometimes have mass trials, in which hundreds of defendants accused of related crimes are tried at once. This past summer, Morsi, along with almost 100 other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, was sentenced to death for participating in a jailbreak during the 2011 uprising. The mass trials have been denounced as “farcical,” and politically driven by the families of those convicted, as well as some Human Rights groups watching the trials.
A major problem with Egypt’s courts is overcrowding. Prisoners are often held in police stations, where they live in mass cells with 30-50+ other prisoners. They have no beds, and prisoners must supply their own blankets. It is impossible to wash properly in the stations, and food is not supplied to the prisoners. They must survive on food brought to them by relatives. If they have no relatives in the area, they must beg to survive. In actual prisons, even “first-class” cells aren’t very nice. Each cell has around 40 concrete beds with little room for anything else. Though there are adequate washing facilities, prisoners often have to bribe guards with cigarettes to be able to use them. There is also discrimination against political prisoners, as they are not allowed to send or receive letters, and there are informants placed among them to report what is said.
Egypt has a very different criminal justice system than the United States. The difference that struck out the most for me was the lack of jury trials. Every other country I’ve studied in this blog has had jury trials, at least in theory, so it’s interesting that Egypt doesn’t have this system that so much of the world seems to take for granted. Egypt is also different in that it has laws that can trump the Constitution. In the U.S., and most other countries, the Constitution is the highest law, and the only way to get around something in the Constitution is to amend it. A final big difference is the prisons. People in police custody aren’t even fed by the system.
Egypt is a good example of the worst that can happen as a result of police brutality. The Egyptian people overthrew their government; partly because they were tired of the way the police were treating them. While the protests that have happened around the U.S. in recent years are not on the same scale as those in Egypt in 2011, they show that the behavior of police is not a light issue in the U.S., and that the people want change. Mass trials and non-jury trials also show the importance of having a fair court system, that gives all defendants the ability to receive a good defense.