Egypt's courts going soft on Islamist protesters? Not so fast

A court in Alexandria has ruled in favor of 21 women and girls convicted of joining an anti-coup protest. But other followers of former President Morsi are unlikely to get lenient treatment.

Eman Helal/AP
Women supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi stand inside the defendants' cage in an Egyptian court, Saturday.

Followers of deposed President Mohamed Morsi have been reeling since July’s coup. A court ruling on Saturday to release 21 women and girls jailed for joining a protest offered some relief to those who resisted the coup. But it does not mean that Mr. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, or other activists who take to the streets, can expect leniency as Egypt’s military continues to maintain a tight grip on power.  

The women and girls were arrested in Alexandria in October during a largely peaceful protest against the coup. The women – mostly in their late teens – were held in detention for almost a month, then put on trial for charges including vandalism, rioting, and carrying weapons. The court speedily convicted them after just one hearing, and handed down a harsh sentence – 11 years in jail for the 14 women, and detention in a juvenile facility until age 18 for the seven minors.

According to Human Rights Watch, the defendants' lawyers were not allowed to call any witnesses during the hearing, and the court's ruling did not contain credible evidence that any of them participated individually in the crimes they were accused of. The rights group called the convictions a “dangerous message” from Egypt's courts to Muslim Brotherhood protesters.

In yesterday’s ruling, the appeals court reduced the 11-year terms for the women to one year’s suspended sentence, and said that the minors should serve only three months of probation. In separate hearings, state media reported Saturday that 155 people arrested during October clashes between Islamist protesters and police had been acquitted of assaulting police and vandalism.

But it is unlikely that all pro-Morsi protesters can expect similar outcomes. The case against the 21 women and girls garnered sympathy even outside Islamist circles, both because of the harsh sentences and because those convicted were young women. Even Egyptians who agree with government claims that many Muslim Brotherhood protesters are terrorists found it hard to reconcile this rhetoric with the sight of teenagers who appeared in court fresh-faced, smiling, and yesterday, even holding pink roses.

While they will be released, hundreds of others arrested at protests remain in pretrial detention, along with thousands of ordinary Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters. Trials of the movement’s leaders are ongoing. And no court has commuted the 17-year sentences given to 12 students at Al Azhar University for holding pro-Morsi protests in October on the university's campus.  

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Egypt's courts going soft on Islamist protesters? Not so fast
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today