EGYPT: 230 DEATH SENTENCES IN SIX MONTHS
June 24, 2009: Egyptian courts have handed down unprecedented numbers of death sentences in recent months, most of them for violent crime. "Two hundred and thirty death sentences in six months", read the headline of independent daily Al- Dustour. "Fifty in the last week alone".
Azza Quraim, social science professor at the Cairo-based National Centre for Social and Criminal Research said "the number of death sentences handed down by the judiciary in recent weeks is without precedent."
"So many death sentences have been handed down by the courts recently that the Grand Mufti has had little time to concentrate on his other responsibilities," Alaa Eddin Al-Kifafi, psychology professor at Cairo University told IPS.
Local experts partially attribute the sharp spike in executions to a recent surge in violent crime.
"Incidents of violent crime have increased markedly in recent months and years," Quraim said. "Extreme violence, generally unknown in Egyptian society before, appears to be becoming a behavioural norm."
"For the average citizen, there are fewer job opportunities than ever, which has led to a widespread sense of hopelessness and despair," said Al-Kifafi. "And psychologically speaking, the link between feelings of despair and violent behaviour is well known and thoroughly documented.
"The wave of recent death penalties appears to be a heavy-handed attempt by the state to deter citizens from committing violent crimes," Al-Kifafi added.
"What's more, the glacial pace of Egypt's legal system, coupled with the frequent lack of implementation of court verdicts, has made the public lose faith in the judiciary and begin taking their perceived rights by force," she added.
But according to Quraim, the state's hasty recourse to capital punishment is a misguided - and socially destructive - approach to the dilemma, and represents "its own kind of mass murder."
"By issuing harsh verdicts such as the death penalty, judicial authorities have begun to practice their own kind of violence against society," Quraim added. (Sources: IPS, 16/07/2009)