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Morsi trial

Kristen McTighe, Cairo
April 20, 2015

Two years after a coup ousted Egypt's first freely elected president, a court is set to deliver a verdict against Mohammed Morsi on charges of inciting the killing of protesters. Kristen McTighe reports from Cairo.

Image: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Ahmad Yehia was protesting against Egypt's former President Mohammed Morsi in December 2012 at the presidential palace on the outskirts of Cairo when, he says, he was shot in the shoulder by Muslim Brotherhood supporters. The clashes that erupted that month were the beginning of a spiral of violence, and when anti-Morsi protests picked up in the summer of 2013, Yehia called for the president's ouster.

But now, as the former president he detests is about to be sentenced on accusations of inciting the killing of protesters that December, Yehia remains indifferent to the judicial proceedings against Morsi.

"Justice in Egypt is politicized to the ruling regime," said Yehia, who says he neither supports the Brotherhood nor the current regime.

In a country where courts have routinely handed out harsh sentences to Muslim Brotherhood leaders, a guilty verdict is all but expected for the former president, who hails from the Islamist group.

But while many opponents of the former president say they would welcome a guilty verdict, which could carry the death penalty, others, including some who allege that they were victims of violence at the hands of Islamists, say a guilty verdict means little in a country where justice has been selective.

Where it all began

Morsi and 14 other defendants are charged with being responsible for the killing of three protesters and the torture of several more during violence between the former president's supporters and opponents in front of the presidential palace in Cairo on December 5, 2012.

The violence began when hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters marched to the presidential palace, after days of protests by opponents of Morsi's November 22 Constitutional Declaration, which granted the president sweeping powers and placed him above judicial review.

protesters waving flags Photo: Thomas Hartwell/AP/dapd
Morsi supporters say they are being unfairly targetedImage: AP

"The Brotherhood started the violence. We went to [the presidential palace] and we were peaceful, but when the Brotherhood came to the palace, they got violent and they tore down protester tents," said Ali Hadouta, a 24-year-old student who opposed the former president. "They thought they were protecting Morsi and the palace. We threw rocks and they had shotguns, fireworks, and they had the police."

Video footage that circulated online showed men wielding wooden sticks, tearing down tents set up by anti-Morsi protesters and ransacking possessions. Violence between pro-Morsi and anti-Morsi protesters escalated from throwing stones and Molotov cocktails to firing rubber pellet rifles and handguns. Both sides accused each other of using firearms, and both sides said security forces stationed nearby did little stop the violence.

Viral videos

A number of videos showed protesters being tied up, interrogated and physically abused by men near the palace.

Anas Sayed, a lawyer at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, who is representing Ramy Sabry, one of the alleged torture victims, says his client heard Alaa Hamza, a Brotherhood member also accused in Morsi's trial, speaking on the phone to Brotherhood politician Mohamed Beltagy, which would indicate that the leaders were involved. Sabry, who also appeared bloodied and battered in video footage, said he was hit with wooden sticks, kicked and dragged along the street.

police leading protesters away
Did the police do enough to prevent the violence?Image: Reuters/M. Abd El Ghany

"The victim was very accurate in his testimony," Sayed told DW, adding that phone records were presented in court which confirmed that the call between the two took place. "The greatest verdict would be against Alaa Hamza, because he was supervising the torture."

Weak evidence

While Sayed believes the evidence against Hamza is strong, he admits it is weaker against Morsi. Human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, say a speech made by then-President Morsi that referred to "confessions" of detained protesters as evidence that they were "hired thugs" raised concerns that Morsi was aware of illegal detentions outside the presidential palace. In regard to Morsi's role in the violence, Sayed said Sabry believes Morsi is "at least politically responsible."

Despite video footage and witness testimony, officials from the Muslim Brotherhood deny the allegations that the group and its supporters used violence to silence critics.

"Any honest observer knows that the judiciary is highly politicized. It's a political trial and has nothing to do with the rule of law," said Abdul Mawgoud Dardery, a member of the country's former parliament and the spokesperson of the foreign relations committee of the Freedom and Justice Party, the now outlawed political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Dardery and other Brotherhood members say counterrevolutionary forces were behind the attacks and point out that Morsi supporters suffered more deaths and injuries during the violence that left at least eight people dead.

"If really someone is needed to be put on trial, it is the interior minister, because he failed to protect the presidential palace and he failed to protect innocent Egyptians," said Dardery.

Little impact

Both Dardery and Mohamed El Damaty, the head of Morsi's defense team, say they expect Morsi to be found guilty. If so, El Damaty said they would appeal the verdict. And because the verdict can be appealed, many observers say that the immediate impact of this trial may be negligible.

"The trial may be relevant in some way, but if Morsi received a death sentence, it's likely to be appealed or commuted," H.A. Hellyer, a Middle East analyst at the Brookings Center for Middle East Policy in Washington DC and the Royal United Services Institute in London, told DW.

"I don't think an execution is an escalation the state wants to get involved in," Hellyer said. "Even if they did, international pressure, including from allies of Egypt, would be hardly enthusiastic about such a course of action."

Still, the trial has left others with no faith in the Egyptian justice system. Critics of the current government say no official has been held responsible for violence that erupted following the ouster of Morsi, which marked the bloodiest period in modern Egyptian history. In November, an Egyptian court also acquitted former President Hosni Mubarak on charges connected to the deaths of protesters during the country's 2011 uprising.

"Sure we'd like justice, but in Egypt, there is no justice," said Hadouta. Despite his opposition to the Brotherhood, Hadouta says the current regime is worse than any before it and believes there will be no justice for his friends who were injured or killed during the violence at the presidential palace.

Activist Mohammed Samy Photo: K. McTighe, DW
The current regime is targeting activists like Mohamed SamyImage: DW/K. McTighe

"Now, it's our friends, like Mohamed Samy, who are also in jail," said Hadouta, referring to a secular protester who was sentenced to three years prison under the controversial protest law which bans unsanctioned protests, along with prominent activist Alaa Abdel Fattah.

"I want justice applied to [Morsi] if he committed a crime," said Yehia, who was shot during the clashes. "But everything is corrupt now."

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