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Egypt's grand mufti, who ratified record number of death sentences, arrives in UK

Egyptians have criticised Shawki Allam for approving execution orders against human rights activists and politicians
Grand Mufti of Egypt Sheikh Shawki Allam is currently on a visit to the UK, Egypt's government announced (AFP/File photo)

Egypt's Grand Mufti Shawki Allam arrived in London on Sunday as part of a visit to the United Kingdom, according to a press release by the country's State Information Service (SIS) and statement from Allam's office.

According to SIS, Allam's visit comes following "an official invitation from the UK Parliament." 

"He will deliver a speech before the House of Commons and the House of Lords at the beginning of his visit," it said in a statement. 

"The speech will be the first of its kind, following a successful virtual meeting of Shawky (sic) with members of the two houses," it added.

Shawki, the SIS said, is also expected to meet with senior UK officials and the mayor of London. He is also due to deliver "a number of lectures and seminars in several forums and British research centres".

According to rights group Amnesty International, Allam has ratified hundreds of death sentences since his appointment as Egypt's grand mufti in 2013, the year that Abdel Fattah el-Sisi toppled the late President Mohamed Morsi in a military coup.

Since then, Egypt has been executing people at an unprecedented rate, making it the world's third-worst country in terms of the number of executions in 2020, according to Amnesty.

Morsi, affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, died while in custody in June 2019 in circumstances described by UN experts as "state-sanctioned arbitrary killing". Allam ratified the death sentence against Morsi.

In a statement, the Muslim Association of Britain said it was "appalled" to learn that Allam was invited to speak to parliament.

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"This invitation is truly unacceptable. We have to assume that whoever has invited him to the UK simply doesn't know how many innocent deaths he has personally facilitated," said spokesperson Mustafa al-Dabbagh. "His invitations must be rescinded and he must not be welcomed in our institutions."

Mohamed Soudan, a London-based Egyptian activist and former senior member of Morsi's Freedom and Justice Party, said the visit was based on an invitation by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Egypt in the House of Commons.

In a letter to Conservative MP Jonathan Lord, who chairs the APPG, Soudan denounced the visit, accusing Allam of committing "actions against Egyptian citizens that amounted to denying them the most basic of human rights, the right to life."

"No organisation or group that upholds the values of freedom and respect for human rights should offer such a man as Shawki Allam a platform," Soudan wrote.

"He is a man who should be tried under international jurisdiction for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity."

Middle East Eye contacted Lord and the office of the mayor for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

In Egypt, executions are carried out by hanging for civilians and firing squad for military personnel. When a court sentences a defendant to death, they are first given a preliminary sentence before their case is referred to the grand mufti, who issues an opinion.

Though non-binding, these opinions can be influential and the trial judge will consider them before confirming the sentence.

According to the rights group Reprieve, there have been at least 53 mass trials in Egypt since 2011, in which 2,182 people were sentenced to death. At least 17 children have received preliminary death sentences during the same time period.