Next Tuesday, a lawyer will plead for a Cairo court to suspend the execution of six men, arguing that their death sentences were unconstitutional. The only trouble is, the defendants are already dead.

Since the coup that swept Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi from power, hundreds of his supporters have been handed death sentences in a rash of mass trials. But until this month, only one had been carried out — against a man convicted of throwing another man off a roof.

A little over a week ago, however, six men sentenced to death by a military court were executed on charges of belonging to militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis and attacking security forces.

The day before, a Cairo court sentenced ousted president Morsi and 120 others to death on charges related to a mass prison break during the 2011 uprisings. Some were sentenced in absentia, including Sondos Asem, a young Oxford University student who used to work as a media coordinator for Morsi, and Emad Shahin, a well-known professor at the American University in Cairo.
The six executions of political opponents mark the first overtly political killings ordered under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s leadership. They recall other killings of political opposition figures after violent power shifts — Iran in 1979, Liberia in 1980 — but it remains to be seen how deep the similarities will go.

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