Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – An Egyptian government official informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the country’s Islamists are seeking to develop legislation pardoning all those convicted and accused in terrorism-related cases, adding that should such legislation pass through parliament this would benefit hundreds of dangerous criminals, including criminals convicted in terror cases with no political aspects or features. The Egyptian official claimed that the Islamists true objective is to secure the release of approximately 37 leaders and cadres of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya group and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad [EIJ] group who have been sentenced to death or life imprisonment, or whose cases are still in the process of being tried.
Egyptian parliamentary sources revealed that the Islamist Building and Development Party – the political wing of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, which is an organization that carried out numerous terrorist attacks against the state in the 1980s and 1990s –has put forward a draft proposal for a comprehensive pardon for all those accused in terrorism-related crimes during the era of former president Mubarak – and even prior to this – from 1976 to the fall of the Mubarak regime on 11 February, 2011. The source added that Egypt’s parliamentary Committee on Constitutional and Legislative Affairs yesterday witnessed sharp division within its ranks over this issue whilst the Egyptian government, represented by Deputy Minister of Justice for Legislative Affairs, Omar al-Sherif, comprehensively rejected this amendment, as did leftist and Coptic MPs, after it was revealed this pardon would include figures who have been convicted in terror cases against civilians, private properties and churches.
The Egyptian government objected to a pardon for people convicted according to Article 86 of the Egyptian Penal Code. Whilst Egypt’s Karama Party MP Saad Abboud – also a member of the parliamentary Committee on Constitutional and Legislative Affairs – informed Asharq Al-Awsat that there are fears that this pardon would include those who had been involved in terrorist attacks on churches. Egyptian Deputy Justice Minister Omar al-Sherif stressed that Article 86 of the penal code applies to any cases of state terrorism and therefore seeking a pardon of anybody convicted under this article represents over-excessiveness on the part of the Building and Development Party which only wants to secure the release of 36 individuals imprisoned by the former regime for their political views and opposition activity.
Article 86 of Egypt’s penal code defines terrorism as “any use of force of violence or any threat or intimidation to which the perpetrator resorts in order to disturb the peace or jeopardize the safety and security of society and of such nature as to harm or create fear in persons or imperil the lives, freedoms or security; harm the environment; damage or take possession of communications; prevent or impede the public authorities in the performance of their work; or thwart the application of the Constitution or of laws or regulations.”
Karama Party MP Saad Abboud stressed that he had voted against this pardon, stressing the need to find a way to pardon Islamists convicted or accused in terrorism-related cases.
As for the actual number of people who have been convicted under Article 86 of the Egyptian penal code, Abboud told Asharq Al-Awsat that more than the 36 Islamists whose release the Building and Development party is seeking to secure could benefit from this pardon, thereby harming Egyptian security and stability. He said that the Egyptian government had not provided the definitive number of people convicted in such cases, adding “we do not have specific figures at this time, and we do not know whether this is in the hundreds or thousands.”
MP Saad Abboud also told Asharq Al-Awsat “Along with a number of other MPs in the parliamentary Committee, I said that we should hold off issuing a law pardoning convicts in terror-related chases…I believe that the more practical solution would be for the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] to issue a pardon for these 37 Islamists only, on the grounds that they are political prisoners.”
He added “the person who put forward this proposal could have waited until after the president was elected, but this did not happen due to their urgency.”
For her part, Coptic MP Suzy Adly Nashed also revealed that she had opposed the pardon for those convicted under Article 86 of the Egyptian penal code, stressing that such figures had been convicted on terrorism charges for targeting tourism companies and religious sites, including Coptic churches. She added that despite the noble goal of “securing a pardon for 37 Islamists who have been unjustly convicted and imprisoned – and we support them wholeheartedly– it is not permissible to set certain rules for certain figures, in order to ensure that we are not accused of having double standards with regards to the law.” She also asserted that both Muslims and Christians had been killed at the hands of terrorists over the years, including the victims of the al-Qiddissin Church bombing in Alexandria last year, as well as the killing of former Egyptian Islamic Endowment Minister Sheikh Hussein al-Zahabi in 1977.