CAIRO — When the Egyptian regime carried out the hanging of six defendants last week in the Arab Sharkas case, it was sending a clear message to former President Mohamed Morsi a day after a Cairo court sentenced the former leader and another 106 people to death. Such is the interpretation of events in the capital by attorney Ahmed Helmy, who represented some of the Arab Sharkas defendants.

The six men were accused members of the militant group formerly known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, and had been sentenced to death last October. As for Morsi and the other defendants, the court handed them a death sentence on charges of prison break.

But execution in Morsi's case would have heavy political and security implications. "A decision of the sort is not in the best interest of the country's security, or the daily life of citizens," says Abdel Latif al-Bedeiny, former deputy interior minister. "It will only open the door to more violence, which will worsen the conflict between both parties."

Commenting on one of the major flaws commonly cited in the case, he adds, "I do not want to comment on a judicial verdict, but having deceased Palestinians among those convicted raises big question marks."

Among the Palestinians convicted alongside Morsi are Hassan Salama, a detainee in Israeli prisons since 1996; Tayssir Abou Sneema, who was killed by Israeli forces in 2009; Hossam al-Sanei, who was killed in 2008; and Raed al-Attar, founder of the Qassam Brigades, also killed by Israel in the last attack in Gaza.

A May 23 protest against the regime in Cairo — Photo:  Belal Wagdy/Xinhua/ZUMA

Ahmed Ban, a researcher on Islamic movements, agrees. "I cannot imagine a sane authority would carry out these verdicts," he says. "Taking that step would open the door for a civil war."

Ban, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, adds, "Carrying out these verdicts means that we have reached the final stage of the confrontation [between the Brotherhood and the state], which goes against the history of this conflict. The state has always managed to maintain a balance between confrontation and political settlement with the group. Even if the confrontation seems to now be at its peak, there is room for political settlement." 

But Bedeiny blames the escalation in this verdict on the failure of both the Brotherhood and the state to find grounds for reconciliation, especially in the absence of deft political mediation.

In making this claim, Bedeiny also unintentionally points to the verdict's politicization and the judiciary behind it.

"There is an entity trying to embarrass the state and the executive authority," Ban says, in an elusive reference to the judiciary and the security apparatus. "I do not understand how an individual is acquitted from charges of espionage and then sentenced to death because he escaped from prison during a revolution. There seems to be an entity trying to pressure the state to gain or maintain power."

Morsi was sentenced to death on charges of prison escape. He was never sentenced in the espionage case.