CAIRO (AP) — President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi vowed Tuesday to accelerate a crackdown on extremists and bring “swift justice” after the assassination of Egypt’s chief prosecutor, raising the prospect of carrying out executions of senior Muslim Brotherhood figures, including the former president.
Pounding his fist as he spoke at the funeral of Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat, who oversaw the cases against thousands of Islamists, el-Sissi’s comments seemed to signal an even tougher campaign on the Brotherhood and other government opponents.
Despite an international outcry against legal abuses and lack of due process, Egypt has waged a 2-year-old crackdown that has led to thousands of arrests, mass convictions and death sentences. Ousted President Mohammed Morsi is among those condemned to die.
El-Sissi said the government was ready to brush those criticisms aside and free the judiciary’s hand for a “battle” the country is prepared to wage.
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“The judiciary is restricted by laws, and swift justice is also restricted by laws. We will not wait for that,” el-Sissi said.
Action will be taken within days “to enable us to execute the law, and bring justice as soon as possible,” he said.
“We will stand in the face of the whole world, and fight the whole world,” el-Sissi added.
In a thinly veiled reference to jailed members of the Brotherhood, el-Sissi blamed the violence on those “issuing orders from behind bars,” and warned: “If there is a death sentence, it will be carried out.”
Minister of Transitional Justice Ibrahim el-Henaidi said a draft anti-terrorism law will be submitted Wednesday to the Cabinet for final amendments. It gives prosecutors more powers to detain suspects for long period of time and enables authorities to inspect bank accounts of those facing terror-related charges, according to the Seventh Day newspaper.
Commenting on the new measures, rights lawyer Mohammed Zarie said: “I am afraid that swift justice will only jeopardize people’s rights.”
El-Sissi’s remarks came after Barakat was killed by a bomb Monday as he rode in his motorcade — the first assassination of a senior official here in a quarter-century.
In a new bombing Tuesday, three suspected militants were killed near a police station in the Sixth of October district west of Cairo, according to a security official. The militants were killed when the car, packed with explosives, blew up before it could reach the police station, its apparent target. Photos on the website of the Seventh Day newspaper showed body parts and wrecked vehicles at the site.
Barakat’s killing was an embarrassment to el-Sissi, who has pledged to bring stability to Egypt since the army that he led ousted Morsi on July 3, 2013, and removed the Brotherhood from the power it had won in elections.
Since Morsi was overthrown, the Brotherhood has been declared a terrorist organization, accused of fueling an insurgency. The Brotherhood denies the allegation, accusing the government of trying to justify its crackdown on the group.
Hundreds of Brotherhood members and other Islamists have been killed in the crackdown, while tens of thousands have been jailed.
Tuesday marked the second anniversary of the mass protests that led to Morsi’s ouster. El-Sissi was elected president a year ago.
A long-running Islamist insurgency has surged dramatically in the Sinai Peninsula, with regular attacks on police and military forces killing hundreds. Suicide bombings have also targeted army and police forces elsewhere in Egypt. Most were claimed by Egypt’s main extremist group, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
Hassan Badrawi, deputy head of the State Council, which gives legal advice to the government, drafts legislation, and exercises jurisdiction over administrative cases, said Egypt’s current situation required softening guarantees for defendants in order to speed up prosecutions and shorten lengthy appeals processes.
“It’s time to make changes from the roots,” he told The Associated Press.
“If executions took place in some incidents, we would have achieved deterrence,” he said, adding that he thought “swift deterrent justice is more important than giving much attention to what the world says.”
Morsi and other top Brotherhood leaders still can appeal their death sentences, and they also face other charges — prompting some government supporters to complain the process is too slow. El-Sissi’s comments suggested he may try to speed it up.
Michael Hanna, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Century Foundation, said new judicial measures could open the door to further abuses if, as in the past, they “subvert the rule of law.”
“This kind of swift hard action is one way to deflect attention away from what is a very real security failure,” he said. “It provides a legal procedural pathway to manifestly unjust outcomes.”
In a report Tuesday focusing on 14 cases, Amnesty International accused the government of imprisoning activists in order to crush dissent.
“Two years after the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi, mass protests have been replaced by mass arrests,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director of the group’s Middle East and North Africa Program. “By relentlessly targeting Egypt’s youth activists, the authorities are crushing an entire generation’s hopes for a brighter future.”
The Foreign Ministry rejected the report, calling it a “blatant defiance of the will of the Egyptian people.”
Authorities had declared June 30 a national holiday to mark the protests that led to Morsi’s ouster, but they also canceled all official celebrations in a sign of mourning for Barakat. Anti-government demonstrators had planned protests, and some extremist groups have called for attacks, with police vowing to crush both.
Security was boosted in Cairo, with armored personnel carriers positioned across town from early in the day and additional checkpoints set up.
Authorities and pro-government TV networks blamed the Brotherhood for Barakat’s killing, broadly accusing it of orchestrating violence. The Brotherhood denied responsibility, but blamed authorities for the bloodshed.
An Egyptian militant group calling itself “Popular Resistance in Giza” claimed responsibility in an online statement, with photographs from the site of the bombing. The claim could not be independently verified and was soon taken down.
Police arrested a 23-year-old unemployed man who allegedly belonged to the group, security officials said, saying he was detained Tuesday in an Internet cafe in Cairo.
Jihadi websites had been circulating threats against Barakat for weeks.
At Barakat’s funeral, el-Sissi led hundreds of state officials and military men who walked in unison as wreaths were laid. The service was held at the newly built Tantawi Mosque, named for the retired field marshal who headed the military council that ran Egypt between the 2011 ouster of autocrat Hosni Mubarak and Morsi’s 2012 election.
Media unanimously hailed Barakat as a “hero” and “martyr.” TV channels suspended regular programs until 7 p.m. to show the funeral and images of Monday’s bombing.
Violence continued even as Barakat was buried.
A mortar shell allegedly fired by extremists at an army position in the northern Sinai city of Sheikh Zuweyid fell on a private residence, killing two children and wounding three others, according to relatives, who asked that their names not be used for fear of repercussions.
In the Nile River city of Beni Suef south of Cairo, security officials said gunmen opened fire on a police car, killing a sergeant and wounding four others.
Security officials in the restive Cairo suburb of Matariya said their forces clashed with Brotherhood demonstrators, unleashing tear gas on protesters who burned tires and fired birdshot.
All the security officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief journalists.
This story has been corrected to show that the lawyer’s name is spelled Zarie, not Zarea.