Citing the need to respect the independence of government institutions, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said this week that he would not interfere to overrule the sentences of three Al Jazeera journalists condemned to at least seven years in prison each for working with the Muslim Brotherhood.
According to The New York Times, Sisi insisted that he would not allow the executive branch to interfere with the judiciary’s decision on the matter. “If we desire state institutions, we must respect court rulings and not comment on them, even if others don’t understand these rulings,” he said, adding, “the Egyptian judiciary is an independent and exalted judiciary.” Sisi also called the Justice Minister of the country to clarify that he would stand behind the decision. Sisi’s comments were broadcast during a speech he delivered at a military graduation ceremony.
The three journalists imprisoned are Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed, all who were covering the uprisings that led to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the aftermath of the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak. They are each serving between seven and ten years in prison for endangering the national security of Egypt by writing reports the Egyptian judiciary claimed were favorable to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Their imprisonment marks the continuation of Sisi’s zero-tolerance policy on the Muslim Brotherhood. As a presidential candidate, the former leader of the nation’s armed forces said the Islamist party would no longer exist under his tenure. “I want to tell you that it is not me that finished [the Brotherhood]. You, the Egyptians, are the ones who finished it,” he said in campaign statements before his overwhelming victory last month. Sisi has also taken a stand against the pervasive sexual abuse of women in public, even visiting the hospital bed of a woman sexually abused in Tahrir Square during Sisi’s inaugural celebration and publicly apologizing to all Egyptian women for the incidents.
Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members have been arrested and sentenced to death, including the leader of the party, Mohamed Badie; 182 other supporters of the party had their death sentences upheld along with Badie this week.
While Sisi has worked to bring his government closer to the United States, the Obama administration’s reaction to the arrests has been frigid. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the sentences as “chilling and Draconian,” noting that the United States had expressed “serious displeasure” with the Sisi administration.