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Visting Georgetown Professor Among Those Egypt Sentences To Death


Egypt's former president, Mohammed Morsi, was sentenced to death last weekend along with 100 others. We're going to hear from one of them - Emad Shahin. He's a scholar of political Islam who taught at the American University in Cairo. He's now at Georgetown University in Washington. Shahin fled Egypt before he was charged, convicted and sentenced to death for espionage.

EMAD SHAHIN: Espionage - I don't know what that means. Honestly, I don't know that means without, you know, the court producing any kind of evidence.

MONTAGNE: Many of the people sentenced to death were supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. Shahin is not and says the military-backed government of the current president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, is targeting all kinds of people.

SHAHIN: And these are not Islamists. These are liberal, human rights advocates. This is the future generation in Egypt that are really aspiring to build a democratic system and a free Egypt.

MONTAGNE: What do you think is behind sentencing so many opposition figures to death? It's so dramatic. It seems like it would be counterproductive, actually, for Egypt.

SHAHIN: No, it's not, especially because the authority regimes have a different rationale. I think they are trying to send a number of messages. One, of course, is to use these death penalties as a bargaining chip. If Sisi's regime falls under some kind of international pressure and he has to commute these sentences and find a solution for these political dissidents - so this case, he can commute the sentences from death to, for example, life in prison - it's a win-win situation for him.

The other message, of course, is to re-instill the fear into the Egyptian people in a way that will make any kind of dissent extremely, extremely risky. And finally, Sisi is testing the limits of Western tolerance with him with his massive abuse of human rights to see what the action of the West would be. Western countries, particularly the United States and the EU, have not taken a firm stand.

MONTAGNE: What do you think about the way the West has reacted?

SHAHIN: If I think with full and good intentions, I think it is the lack of a consistent and coherent policy with regard to democracy promotion, with regard to sticking to fundamental and basic values of human rights and rule of law and with regard to resolving this kind of - I call it disingenuous - dilemma of security versus values. For the past six decades, Western countries have always opted for security at the expense of democracy and human rights, even to the extent of arming repression. Recently, President Obama has lifted the arm freeze on Egypt, and that is taken as a message of rewarding the military general in using these arms to repress his own population. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot arm repression and at the same time claim to be advocating and promoting democracy.

MONTAGNE: When you escaped Egypt, quite suddenly, winter of last year, you were not able even to say goodbye to your wife. What of your family?

SHAHIN: What I can say is this has incurred a great toll on my family and on myself, on my stability as an academic in all aspects. But thank God my family and I are strong. We're holding together, and I'm sure we'll go through this.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you.

SHAHIN: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Emad Shahin is a visiting professor at Georgetown University. Last weekend, he and over 100 other Egyptians, including former President Morsi, were sentenced to death in an Egyptian court. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.