Egypt’s Judges Flex Their Muscles

“The ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi has emboldened judges to display their political independence, but some worry they’re trampling rights in an effort to curry favor with the new government, as human rights groups say more than 21,000 have been detained”


Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour is a judge, but the country’s most notorious jurist may well be the man known as “The Butcher.” Said Youssef issued a pair of rulings in March and April sentencing more than 1,200 people to death—after two trials lasting less than an hour each. The verdicts were applauded by the most vocal members of Egypt’s pro-government media. Among rights advocates in Egypt and abroad, the reaction to the mass sentencing was a unison chorus of condemnation. But the international outrage was matched only by the puzzlement of those wondering: How could any judge issue such a sweeping and seemingly inexplicable set of rulings?

The verdicts, issued in the province of Minya, cast a spotlight on Egypt’s judiciary, an immense and politically mixed institution that prides itself on its independence—a fact the government’s spokesmen cited in response to the international furor over the death sentences. “Egyptian…

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