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Monday, March 24, 2014

In Egypt, One Step Up and 529 Steps Back

As my colleague David Kirkpatrick reports, a court in the Egyptian city of Minya sentenced 529 people to death on Monday after a hasty mass trial that included no defense, convicting them of murder for the killing of a police officer during rioting by Islamists last summer after the military deposed President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The verdict, which Amnesty International called “grotesque,” came just hours after what had seemed to be a slight easing of the crackdown on dissent in Egypt, with the release on bail of a prominent government critic, the activist blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah.

Video recorded Sunday in Cairo showed the activist blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah greeting his family after his release on bail.

There was a palpable sense of joy in video of Mr. Abd El Fattah â€" rushing from the gates of a detention center in Cairo into the arms of his family â€" posted on YouTube late Sunday by Mahmoud Salmani, an activist working to put an end to trials for civilians in military courts. The next morning, the anguished screams of family members of those sentenced to death in Minya could be heard in a news report.

Later Monday, Mr. Abd El Fattah, who had three months of pretrial detention on charges of encouraging protests against the military-backed government, drew the attention of his 565,000 Twitter followers to another blogger’s comment, calling the two decisions by the Egyptian judiciary, “1 step forward, 529 steps back.”

Follow Robert Mackey on Twitter @robertmackey.