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Public outcry over death sentence to former minister Bassem Ouda

An Egyptian court's sentencing to death of former supply minister Bassem Ouda sparks public outrage on social media
Demonstrations staged across Egypt to protest the military take-over since July 2013 continue (Anadolu Agency)

The sentencing to death of the former minister of supply and interior trade who served during Mohammed Morsi's short-lived administration has ignited as much, if not more, public uproar in than the death sentences handed down on Saturday to more than 180 Islamists, including Muslim Brotherhood chief Mohamed Badie.

Bassem Ouda, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, served for half a year as the country's supply and interior trade minister. Ouda has been hailed as the 'humane' 'minister of the poor' and is known for ordering the closure of a bakery for three months after discovering large amounts of looted flour during one of his inspection visits. He was detained in November on charges of incitement of violence. 

On Thursday, Ouda, along with 13 other defendants including senior Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) member Mohamed Al-Beltagy, FJP deputy chairman Essam Al-Erian, Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya member Assem Abdel Maged and conservative preacher Safwat Hegazy, were handed death sentences in a preliminary hearing . They are charged with inciting violence that killed 10 people near Al-Istiqama's mosque in the Greater Cairo neighbourhood of Giza, days after Morsi's 3 July ouster. 

In a separate case on Saturday, 183 were sentenced to death, convicted of involvement in the murder of two policemen and the attempted murder of five others in Minya province on 14 August, the day hundreds of Morsi supporters were forcefully evicted from Cairo squares of Rabaa and Nahda.

Despite the polarisation in Egypt in which even families are split over their political persuasions, many down pro or anti-Brotherhood lines, Ouda's sentencing has garnered outrage from a wide-spectrum of supporters.

"Although Ouda came from the Brotherhood, he was perceived as a technocrat who wasn't involved in the day to day business of the group," explained Aziz El-Kaissouni, visiting fellow at the European Council on foreign affairs on Sunday.

"He is seen as credible, has a strong record of success [during his term as minister] and his performance was usually fairly efficient. He did a lot of good work in attempting to rationalise the price of natural gas and bread distribution systems," added Kaissouni.

Social media users and commentators condemned the court rulings for being unjust, with a particular focus on Ouda.

“Expertise, intelligence, sincerity, courage, trustworthiness,” wrote Noha Othman describing the former minister in a piece published in the privately-owned Egyptian online news portal Almesryoon which also highlighted the public outcry since the ruling. 

“Bassem Ouda, the minister upon which everyone agreed, left the luxury of air-conditioned offices to serve the public and provide them with a dignified life,” wrote poet Abdel Rahman Yusuf.

Egyptian commentators meanwhile criticized President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi for being hypocritical as he congratulated a group of police graduates on Saturday morning at the Cairo Police Academy telling the young graduates to “be just” and “protect the nation”.

Translation: If we would just stop the injustice #bassem_ouda 

The court in the central city of Minya initially sentenced 683 people to death, but on Saturday commuted death sentences of four defendants to life in prison, including two women, and acquitted 496 others, prosecutor Abdel Rahim Abdel Malik told AFP.

None of the defendants were present in the courtroom, Defence Lawyer Gamal Abdel Hamid told Daily News Egypt.

"The defence lawyers were unable to attend the trial and defend their clients. The court violated the defendants' rights of defence and gave its decision quickly," said lawyer Mohammed Tosson, adding that they intend to appeal.

Since the army ousted Morsi in July last year, hundreds of his supporters and Badie himself have been sentenced to death in trials roundly criticised by human rights watchdogs.

International rights group Amnesty International described Saturday’s sentencing as a “new purge of political opposition” and pointed to the “Egyptian judiciary’s increasingly politicised and arbitrary attitude towards justice and the death penalty” in a statement released shortly after the verdict.

Since Morsi's ouster, hundreds have been killed and tens of thousands detained in an ongoing crackdown on dissent by Egypt's army-backed government.

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