It is not rare these days for the Arab political news bulletins to lead off with the announcement of a verdict for a death sentence. They receive this news, sent to them as part of the process of political transformation in this or that country, without raising any resentment or any question about the meaning and significance of these judicial rulings, and without raising any radical doubts about the popular and democratic transitions.
While the sight of these judicial rulings is far from uncommon, the presentations of them, outside of those immediately concerned with the prisoners, do not raise significant objections about the political nature of these rulings. Not one of these bulletins pushes others to doubt the judiciary, who in turn issued the sentences, or to ask why the examiners have suddenly reached an amazing, miraculous level of conformity with the spirt of justice and the will of the politicians and policy needs, even down to the most minute details.
In a large Arab country, a judge issued one half of the death sentences which were issued by the courts in his country, during a period that did not exceed twelve months. It was the age of a new political phase there, and one served by these judicial rulings. It is interesting that the number of these rulings issued by this judge, and held to the approval of the Mufti (religious leader), reached a record which falls somewhere between 300 and 400 rulings.
It is interesting as well that this number, for the most part, exceeds the number of death sentences issued by any judge in the world during his lifetime, and exceeds the number that was issued in many years during the reign of “the tyrant,” who was then deposed, and whose discharge opened the way for the new political transformation.
No one seems to wonder about the rationale for referring to this judge in particular or seems to ask what distinguishes him in his special judicial status, from the more than thousands of judges in his country, on certain issues related to the opposition of the new regime and its political opponents.
No one asks about the meaning of being under a new system in this country which has recorded a stunning rise in death sentences in instances of political suspicion, though it presents itself as a new “democratic” era and “of the people and for the people.”
And what is the meaning of a large, “secular,” Arab country that has reached a stage where its most important civic institution (the judiciary) expects full compliance with those in power from dissidents and political opponents while the religious authority (the Mufti) feels free to go over the head of those in political power?
Interestingly, the political group which received these death sentences participated in some way or another in the overthrow of the “tyrant’s” regime, then committed a crime in an attempt to monopolize both governance and power, hijacked the political process, and sought to establish a dictatorship in its own country.
However, the sentences issued against its members and loyalists, the character and reputation of the regime which was overthrown by the rulings, the relationship with the former regime, and the fact that the judicial decisions were often diluted to the point of innocence when the judiciary issued them in accordance with the judicial codes of the former tyrant, makes one wonder: are the death sentences of this political group for its crimes or are they in retaliation and retribution for their participation in the overthrow of the former regime?
The reality, such as it is, brings to the forefront an underlying idea: if this country which, we will not name, remains a region absent of compassion and attitudes, still under military junta, and does not emerge from this situation, then it is doomed for now from this mentality.
They welcome military rule today to counter the rule of religious forces, extremism and terrorist states, which are embodied in all of the descriptions of the Islamic State, however they are no different from ISIS in ideological background, institutional tools and written judicial codes.
Yasser Aqbilat is a novelist, storyteller and scriptwriter. He served as the director for texts and idea development in the Arab Center for Audio and Visual Services, and received the Outstanding Award for texts at the Arab Festival for Radio and Television in Tunisia in 2005.
*The Arabic of this op-ed article appeared on May 19, 2015. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily representative of AmmanNet.
Translated by Julia Norris