Egypt: Accusations against Morsi could fuel Friday's protests

The charges against the recently deposed president include murder and kidnapping, and come as thousands of Egyptians prepare to take to the streets.

Asmaa Waguih/Reuters
Opponents of deposed President Mohamed Morsi wave their flags as a military helicopter flies over Tahrir square during a protest to support the army in Cairo Friday, July 26.

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After asserting for weeks that they are holding former President Mohamed Morsi for his own safety, the Egyptian military today said they are detaining him for his contact with Hamas, a Palestinian militant group, when escaping from prison in 2011.

The streets of Cairo and other cities were already expected to be explosive today. In a fiery speech Wednesday, Egypt's military chief called for Egyptians to turn out today in support of the military's fight against "terrorism" (Reuters described it as "throwing down the gauntlet to the Brotherhood"), and tens of thousands of Egyptians are expected to fulfill their request. 

The army has threatened to "turn its guns" on those who use violence. The Brotherhood warned of civil war.

"We will not initiate any move, but will definitely react harshly against any calls for violence or black terrorism from Brotherhood leaders or their supporters," an army official told Reuters.

Brotherhood officials were already calling for counter demonstrations today, before the military's accusations against Mr. Morsi. Now, enraged by today's developments, the situation is ripe for escalation. Brotherhood officials increasingly feel they are subject to a different set of rules than the rest of Egyptians and are being retaliated against for the revolution, Egypt's Ahram Online reports.

"The accusations read as if they're retaliating against the old regime, signaling 'We're back in full force,’" Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad said.

Citing state news agency MENA, Reuters reports that charges against Morsi included "conspiring with the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, killing prisoners and officers 'deliberately with prior intent,' kidnapping officers and soldiers, and setting fire to the prison of Wadi el-Natroun." All of the charges are tied to his escape from prison in 2011, after being jailed during the uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak.

Leading Brotherhood member Essam el-Erian said that the decision to detain Morsi showed the true "fascist military regime" currently in Egypt.

"Announcing a decision to detain a legitimate president who has immunity, who should not stand a trial except under specific constitutional procedures, under very suspicious timing in the absence of the simplest concepts of the state of law as well in the absence of his lawyer, shows the nature of the current struggling fascist military regime," said Mr. el-Erian on his official Facebook page earlier Friday.

"The answer to this will be peaceful million man protests in the squares. Our strength is in our peacefulness and our unity as a people against fascism, oppression and corruption," said el-Erian. “This is the fate of those who participated in January revolution at the hands of Mubarak's men who returned back to get revenge on the people.”

It has been almost a month since the military ousted Morsi, and almost 200 people have died in the confrontations, the majority of them Morsi supporters, according to Reuters. And while the military has called for calm, the Brotherhood and its supporters say it is the military that has stoked the violence in order to justify a crackdown.

It remains unclear what Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi meant in his speech Wednesday when he called for a mandate to fight violence and terrorism, The Wall Street Journal reports. 

The most explosive move would be if troops were to eventually try to clear major Islamist sit-ins. The largest has been outside Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, where crowds some nights have grown to tens of thousands.

A more limited move would be for troops to take tougher action against any sign of supporters of Mr. Morsi being engaged in violence. Some Islamist protesters have been seen with weapons—though their opponents have been as well, and each accuses the other of sparking clashes. Another possibility is that the military would detain Brotherhood and other Islamist leaders who already face arrest warrants.

Meanwhile, any forward momentum in Egypt has been brought to an abrupt halt. Apolitical Egyptians are waiting this out, like they have every other chaotic episode of the last two years. 

"I'm staying home all day, it's too dangerous to work. I didn't think things in Egypt could get this bad, but every day you hear about clashes and deaths," a young taxi driver told Reuters. "Egypt is a disaster."

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