President Mohammed Morsi announced yesterday that protesters arrested or convicted of crimes between January 25, 2011 and June 30, 2012 in support of the Egyptian Revolution would be granted a general pardon.
The pardon does not apply to former government officials arrested for corruption charges or to those awaiting trial for premeditated murder. Many of the protesters had been arrested by an interim military government led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. According to the Egypt State Information Service,
The decree obliges the attorney general and the military prosecution to publish the names of those pardoned in the official gazette as well as two widely-circulated newspapers within one month.
An activist group called "No to Military Trials" claims that the number of political prisoners to be released could be as high as 8,000, but other estimates are as low as 500-1000.
President Morsi captured 51.73% of the vote in a run-off election earlier this year against Ahmed Shafik, the former prime minister under Mubarak. Morsi ran as the Freedom and Justice Party candidate, backed by the Muslim Brotherhood. In the first round of voting, Morsi led with 24% of the vote. In his first 100 days of office Morsi has struggled with fuel and bread shortages, security issues, traffic and garbage problems in Cairo. He is also addressing conflicts between Islamists and Christians who make up 10% of the population. He recently visited a group of Coptic Christians in Sinai who had fled Egypt after receiving death threats. "Your security is our security," he told them, according to Egypt's State News Agency, "What happened is an individual case which represents neither Egypt nor its children, Muslim or Christian. It's crime for which the perpetrators must be held responsible." In August Morsi appointed Samir Marcus, a prominent Christian and Pakinam El-Sharkawy, a woman and a professor of political science at Cairo University to his cabinet. Despite these and various other efforts of reform, many are skeptical of the new President's efforts and continue to complain about slow progress.
U.S. and Egyptian relations remain strained. 75% of Egyptians, as reported by the Pew study, do not believe that Muslims carried out the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and on the 11th anniversary of the tragedy, protesters gathered in Cairo outside the U.S. Embassy to voice their discontent for U.S. treatment of Muslims. Robert Satloff and Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) recently critiqued Morsi's views on 9/11, which mirror those of the majority of the Egyptian people. Morsi, who earned a Ph.D. in materials science from the University of Southern California and was head of the Engineering Department of Zagazig University until 2010, is reported as saying,
“When you come and tell me that the plane hit the tower like a knife in butter, then you are insulting us. How did the plane cut through the steel like this? Something must have happened from the inside."
According to Satloff and Trager, Morsi's "truther talk" is "vile" and "odious." Patrick Clawson, Director for Research at the WINEP, working alongside Satloff and Trager, anxious to get tougher on terrorism and limit the military strength of Islamist regimes, suggested last month that an "initiating" event might be necessary to start war with Iran. "We are in the game of using covert means against Iranians. We could get nastier at that," said Clawson.
WINEP, which has a strong lobbying presence in Washington, has sharply criticized Morsi's "diplomatic overtures to Iran." Soon after becoming President, Morsi announced that he intended to build closer relations with Iran which he hopes “will create a balance of pressure in the region, and this is part of my program." WINEP further claims that Morsi should have prevented the September 11, 2012 embassy protest and is guilty of "inciting potentially violent protests against the United States [which] is the act of a rogue, not an ally."
According to a recent poll 42% of Egyptians are satisfied with Morsi's achievements so far, even though he has fallen short of many of the goals set for his first 100 days. His critics wait to see if the long-awaited general pardon for protesters will increase his overall approval rating and Egypt's relationship with the U.S..