A relative of a supporter of Egyptian ousted Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, cries outside the courthouse on March 24, 2014 in the central Egyptian city of Minya, after the court ordered the execution of 529 Morsi supporters after only two hearings. Photo: AFP Photo/STR
MINYA, Egypt — A crowd gathered outside a courthouse in the town of Matay erupted in wailing and rage last Monday when a judge sentenced 529 defendants to death in just the second session of their trial, convicting them of murdering a police officer in anger at the ouster of the Islamist president. Here in the provincial capital just a few miles away, schools shut down early, and many stayed indoors fearing a riot, residents said.
But the crowds went home, and soon the streets were quiet.
After nine months of escalating repression that culminated in the extraordinary verdict, the military-led government that removed President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood appears to have finally cowed his supporters into near-silence here in Minya, perhaps their greatest stronghold. The city was the heart of a fierce Islamist insurgency just two decades ago, and threatened to rise up again, against the new government.
“They want to scare us so we don’t go out into the streets against them, to show us that could be the justification for another death sentence,” said Mohamed Hafez, whose brother was among those sentenced to death. So rather than give them the pretext, he said, the families consoled themselves that mass sentence was in some ways “a good thing,” because it showed that the trial itself was “a farce” and “illegitimate.”