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Egypt's pardoning of revolutionaries draws praise, cynicism

October 9, 2012 | 11:35 am

MorsiCAIRO — Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s blanket pardon of hundreds of activists arrested during last year’s revolution and its turbulent aftermath was widely viewed as a morally wise but politically timed move from a leader attempting to calm his critics amid social and economic turmoil.

Morsi had been criticized by liberals for not swiftly granting amnesty to political prisoners arrested or convicted between Jan. 25, 2011, when the uprising began against the rule of Hosni Mubarak, and June 30, 2012, the day Morsi was sworn into office. His decision Monday delighted many but was also viewed as a tactic to counter demonstrations against his administration planned for Friday.

Human-rights groups praised Morsi for pardoning what could be more than 1,000 people. They reportedly include those held by military tribunals that arose when the army seized control of the country after Mubarak was overthrown in February 2011. Activists have repeatedly called for top military officials, including Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the nation’s leader for 17 months, to be tried for civil-rights abuses.

The pardon covers those facing “felony convictions and misdemeanor convictions or attempted crimes committed to support the revolution and the fulfillment of its goals,” according to the president's office. It does not extend to those charged with murder.

"This decree is one of the best," Nasser Amin, a human-rights lawyer, told an Egyptian TV station. “The president deserves to be saluted.”

Perhaps. But Morsi, the country’s first Islamist president, is engulfed in problems, many the result of three decades of Mubarak’s corrupt rule, others stemming from the stirrings of a new government that at times appears unsure of its course. Egypt faces high poverty, dwindling foreign reserves, unemployment, inflation, power shortages, lack of security and questions over civil rights.

It’s no wonder those impatient for change under Morsi saw the blanket pardon as a chance to realize the revolution’s ideals while, at least for a moment, making Egyptians forget about the deeper challenges ahead, including the drafting of a new constitution in a sharpening battle between Islamists and liberals.

The amnesty decision is an “attempt to distract from the government's inability to accomplish any economic or social demands and its failure in fulfilling the 100-days promises," Haitham Khateeb, a member of the Revolution Youth Union, told Al-Ahram newspaper.

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 — Jeffrey Fleishman

Photo: Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, shown speaking last month at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, has offered a blanket pardon of hundreds of activists arrested during last year’s revolution and its aftermath. Credit: David Karp / Associated Press.

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