Home inContext Egyptian Court Convicts Former President

Egyptian Court Convicts Former President

Michael Johnson

An Egyptian court sentenced former President Mohamed Morsi to 20 years in prison on Tuesday in connection with the beating and unlawful detention of protesters in December 2012. Morsi’s conviction highlights the government’s legal battle to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood following mass arrests over the past two years.

The court ruled that Morsi, along with 12 other leading Islamists, facilitated the physical intimidation of opposition protesters outside Cairo’s Presidential Palace in late 2012. At the time, demonstrators had gathered to demand that President Morsi call off a vote on the Islamist-dominated draft constitution. According to the court documents, Morsi and senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders Mohammed el-Beltagy and Essam el-Erian then allowed their Islamist supporters to clear the camping protesters using clubs and rifles. In the process, Morsi’s supporters detained and assaulted demonstrators at a makeshift prison on the site. In all, 10 people were killed in the clashes. However, the former president was not found responsible for these deaths.

Egypt’s ousted President Mohammed Morsi sits in the defendant cage in the Police Academy courthouse during a court hearing on charges of inciting the murder of his opponents, in Cairo on November 3, 2014. (AP)

Lawyers for the former president plan to appeal his sentence to a higher court, but Morsi faces other legal battles as well. In four separate court cases he is accused of organizing a prison break and giving national security related documents to Qatar and Iran; he could face the death penalty if convicted.

Amnesty International, along with other human rights groups, has criticized Morsi’s trial as a “sham” saying that he was denied due process and that the evidence is “at best flimsy.” The former president was not given access to lawyers during four months of interrogations before the trial. In Washington, by contrast, a State Department spokesperson said the Obama administration was withholding judgement on the case.

Since the military overthrew the unpopular Morsi-led government in July 2013, Egyptian leaders have launched a crackdown on Islamists and other opposition groups. Since hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters were killed by the security forces following the coup, organized street violence and widespread anti-government protests are now rare. There were no reports of widespread demonstrations after Tuesday’s verdict.

Meanwhile, thousands of activists arrested during the crackdown are being processed through the judicial system under the government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. At least 1,212 people have been sentenced to death since the start of 2014 in a series of mass trials for Muslim Brotherhood supporters, according to al-Jazeera. Sisi’s frequent defense of Egypt’s courts suggests he stands strongly behind the judiciary’s role in suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood, which he says poses a threat to the government, the people, and economy of Egypt.