Mass death sentences have emerged as a disturbing fixture of post-Arab Spring Egypt. The latest ruling, handed down on May 16, could make a martyr of the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi. Mr. Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, along with over 100 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, were sentenced to death for breaking out of prison during the revolt in 2011 against President Hosni Mubarak. The sentence has been referred to the country’s highest Sunni authority for his nonbinding opinion, and a final decision is expected on June 2.
The trial and sentence have been widely condemned by the international community. The European Union’s top diplomat said the trial violated Egypt’s obligations under international law, and an unnamed official in the U.S. State Department expressed “deep concern” over the verdict, stressing the need for “individualized judicial processes for all Egyptians in the interests of justice.” Elliot Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, doubts the death sentences will actually be carried out because of external pressure on President Sisi but warns that even the pronouncement of draconian punishments could drive supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to violence.
Four years after protests brought down Hosni Mubarak, ushering in a brief period of hope for a true democratic awakening, a different kind of revolution has occurred: a near complete turn back to authoritarian rule. The United States seems ready to press reset as well. In late March the Obama administration announced the restoration of $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt, citing regional security interests. Buying stability at the expense of human rights may seem like a necessary bargain amid the chaos of the Middle East, but we need not look far to see where such a shortsighted policy ends.
Assaults in the Academies
A recent column on the op-ed page of The New York Times (5/12), by Ashley Anderson and Elizabeth Deutsch, seeks to shed light on the “entrenched sexism” at West Point, the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy. The authors, both students at Yale Law School, are representing the Service Women’s Action Network, a nonprofit organization aimed at changing military culture by aiding women in the fight against sexual assault, harassment and gender-based discrimination.
According to recent data from the Department of Defense, over 80 percent of women experience some form of sexism and discrimination; almost 50 percent have faced sexual harassment; and 8 percent were sexually assaulted in 2014. Yet fewer than 5 percent of these victims have filed reports. The column argues that an exemption made by Congress to Title IX is partly to blame. Title IX, which requires that U.S. universities receiving federal money maintain suitable policies to prevent sexual violence and discrimination, does not apply to military campuses. Victims must file any complaint at their own campus and within the chain of command. If reports are mishandled, victims have nowhere to turn outside their schools, and they cannot appeal the way a decision was made.
The two writers recommend an executive order for military campuses, similar to Title IX, that would focus on creating better policies to protect against sexism and assault on military campuses. The academies should also create a system that would allow the Defense Department, rather than campuses, to deal with reports filed by victims in certain cases. Those preparing for military careers should be able to count on better support and protection.
Tracking Train Safety
The Amtrak train derailment outside in North Philadelphia on May 12, which left eight people dead and scores injured, makes clear yet again that our nation’s transportation infrastructure urgently needs more than Band-Aid fixes. Sustained and systemic reforms are the only way to ensure that such tragedies do not become commonplace.
Compared with that of Europe, the U.S. rail system is lacking in concrete railway safety protocols. Kevin Hassett, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, notes that “we have a really, really sub-par railroad system, when it comes to safety.” And the numbers bear him out. Last year there were 813 fatalities out of a total of 11,855 railroad incidents, compared with 707 deaths from 11,588 incidents in the previous year. One would have to travel on average more than four million miles on French and German trains before an accident occurs, while in the United States an accident occurs once every 84,300 miles. According to Robert Sumwalt, a board member of the National Transportation Safety Board, if Amtrak had “positive train control,” technologies that monitor and control train speeds to head off accidents, the Amtrak tragedy could have been averted.
Whatever the cause—human or mechanical error—tragedies like this demand urgent attention. Officials in Chicago are heeding the lesson; a safety system about to be implemented will take about four years and $400 million. That is the track the whole country ought to be on.