Egypt prosecutes Morsi: a sign of 'war' on Brotherhood?

Egypt's military-backed government referred ousted President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood for trial, a signal that Egypt's current rulers are going to widen their efforts against the group.

Nasser Nasser/AP/File
Then-spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood Mohammed Morsi spoke at a press conference at the group's offices in Cairo, Egypt, Nov. 22, 2010. Egypt's state news agency said Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013, that the country's top prosecutor has referred ousted Islamist President Morsi to trial on charges of inciting the killing of protesters outside his palace while he was in office.

Egypt's top prosecutor referred ousted President Mohamed Morsi for trial on charges of inciting the murder of protesters yesterday, the latest signal that the military-backed government will press on with its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.

The military ousted Mr. Morsi July 3 after nationwide protests against his rule, and has held him in a secret location since. His referral to trial, along with 14 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, comes after security forces brutally cleared two Brotherhood-led protest camps last month, killing hundreds of Morsi supporters, and then launched a sweeping arrest campaign, scooping up more than 2,000 Brotherhood leaders, members, and supporters.

The move to bring Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders to trial indicates that the government has no plans to compromise or negotiate, says Emad Shahin, professor of public policy at the American University in Cairo.

“The clearest signal here is that this current military-backed government is continuing with its all-out war against the Muslim Brotherhood,” he says. “This crosses out any possibility that Morsi can return, and also any possibility … for reconciliation. They are changing facts on the ground by total and lethal crackdown, by massive arrest, and now by pressing charges which will …. ensure that any reconciliation has to be on the basis of the road map proposed by the military.”

The charges against Morsi and Brotherhood leaders stem from one of the most controversial episodes of his presidency. In December, thousands of people had gathered outside the presidential palace, protesting Morsi's decision to place himself above judicial review and push a new constitution to a speedy referendum. The president's supporters said the police were not doing their job protecting the palace from the protesters, some of whom had attacked it, and Brotherhood leaders called on their supporters to defend the palace.

"If state agencies are weak and still damaged by the wounds of the past, the people can impose their will and protect legitimacy. Members of the FJP will be on the frontline, God-willing," said Brotherhood leader Essam El Erian in a post on his public Facebook page. Dr. Erian is one of the Brotherhood leaders who has been referred to trial alongside Morsi.

The state news agency reported that the prosecutor's investigation of Morsi found he had asked the Republican Guard and police to disperse the protest, and when they refused, Morsi's aides allegedly called on his organization to step in.

The president's supporters dispersed the crowd, but protesters later returned and fierce clashes ensued that killed at least 10, many of them the president's supporters. The Brotherhood members and supporters captured dozens of their opponents, tying them up and holding them for up to 15 hours outside the gates of the palace. They beat some of their captives while demanding that they confess to being paid to protest against the president.

Morsi then delivered a speech in which he said protesters had confessed to being paid thugs. Because the arrested protesters were still being interrogated by prosecutors at the time of the speech, rights groups said the president appeared to be referring to confessions extracted by the Brotherhood supporters.

The general guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, is also on trial for inciting murder, along with several other Brotherhood leaders.

Shahin says the government is trying to make arrests and charges that are "politically motivated" appear legitimate. But, he said, “I don't think this will increase the legitimacy of many of the measures this regime has been taking, but it will reassert the image that most of its measures are politically motivated in order to eliminate their opponents – elimination that takes the shape of killing, detention, and legal cases.”

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