Saturday 18 June saw Egypt’s previous president Muhammad Mursi handed yet another prison sentence, taking his prison terms in three cases up to a staggering 85years.
Mr Mursi had been sentenced to life in prison for espionage on behalf of Iran and Qatar, as well as the Islamist militant groups Hamas and Hizbullah, and to 20 years in prison for clashes that erupted outside his presidential palace in December 2012 between his supporters and opponents, killing up to 10 men.
In 2015 he was sentenced to death on account of prison breaks in connection with Qatar and Hamas and Hizbullah, and attacks on police stations during the 2011 Arab Spring uprising [https://en.wataninet.com/egypt-arab-spring/egypt-post-30-june/the-great-escape/13820/]. The previous president is appealing these sentences.
Egyptians in their wide majority view Mr Mursi’s one year in office as among the darkest periods in the country’s history; so much so that they gathered in massive protest on 30 June 2013 to demand that he leaves office. The rest is now history; the 33-million strong nationwide protest drove the army to issue a 48-hour ultimatum to the president to resolve the crisis, otherwise the army would impose a roadmap for a democratic transition in Egypt. Mr Mursi belligerently rejected the ultimatum and, on 3 July the military took over and the Roadmap—drawn by representatives of the various sectors of the Egyptian people—was placed in action.
Egyptians did not overthrow Mr Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood (MB) regime for nothing. They had chosen of their own free will to give the MB a chance at running the country and fulfilling their promises to lead Egypt into a democratic and prosperous future in the wake of the Arab Spring uprising in January 2011. The outcome, however, was disastrous. Mr Mursi effectively put an end to all democratic practice in a notorious November 2012 presidential decree that gave him far reaching power and immunity against judicial rulings, and failed to bring about any measure that would even remotely lead to prosperity. The economy nosedived. But perhaps the worst grievance Egyptians held against him was his unabashed attempt to wipe out Egypt’s time honoured traditions—her Egyptianness, so to speak—and replace it with loyalty to Islamism and prospects of a pan-world Islamic caliphate. It was obvious that by the time the ‘democratically elected’ Mr Mursi had served his term in office there would be no democracy to allow voting in a different regime or regaining Egypt from the tenterhooks of Islamism.
The judiciary were the bitter enemy of Mr Mursi, the institution he could not vanquish; hence his November 2012 decree to place his decisions above judicial review. Even while yet in office, a few patriotic Egyptians filed complaints to the Prosecutor General accusing leaders of the MB and President Mursi of espionage and conspiracy with foreign organisations and countries against Egypt. Needless to say, the claims were summarily dismissed.
Once the MB fell, however, the complaints were again filed; this time the new Prosecutor General decided there was sufficient evidence to refer the cases to court.
The recent case was an espionage trial that involved Mr Mursi and 10 other defendants including two journalists for al-Jazeera. They were all accused of passing classified documents to Qatar. The previous president was acquitted of spying but was sentenced to life in prison for leading an illegal organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood which has been declared by court a terrorist group.
Six defendants were handed death sentences, among them the al-Jazeera journalists who were sentenced in absentia. All the rulings may be appealed; those sentenced in absentia may ask for a retrial once they turn themselves in.
Mr Mursi’s personal secretary, Amin al-Serafy, and his office manager, Ahmed Abdel-Aaty, were among those sentenced to life in prison. According to the public prosecutor, Mr Abdel-Aaty was the only person authorised to receive daily reports to the president’s office from the Egyptian general intelligence, the military intelligence, and the Central Auditing Apparatus, the Interior Ministry, the National Security, and the Defense Ministry.
National security investigations revealed that Mr Abdel-Aaty kept hard copies of these classified reports then sent them to the Qatari intelligence and the Qatari satellite channel al-Jazeera. He smuggled 55 classified reports that concerned the Egyptian army’s armament plan in Sinai and the Rafah tunnels to Qatar. This, the investigations revealed, led to the penetration of Egyptian regions, most importantly Sinai, and resulted in terrorist attacks aimed at threatening national security, weakening the army and police, and harming the entire country politically, economically, and militarily.
Egypt and Qatar
As has become the custom with the international community, the sentences came under fire from governments and rights groups.
In a statement on Qatar’s state news agency late Saturday, the Foreign Ministry said the verdicts lacked a “proper sense of justice” and did not help in consolidating ties between the two countries. “The verdict is unfounded, goes against truth and contains misleading claims,” said Ahmed al-Rumaihi, who heads the information office at the Foreign Ministry. He said the charge of espionage involving Qatar is both “surprising and unacceptable”.
Al-Jazeera condemned the verdicts, saying they were part of a “ruthless” campaign against freedom of expression, and called on the international community to show solidarity with the journalists.
Relations between Egypt and Qatar have been fraught with tension and suspicion since the 2013 overthrow of Mr Mursi who was supported by Qatar throughout his one year in office. Ever since, Qatar has continued to support the terrorist MB, a stance which Egypt sees as endangering her national security. Cairo also accuses the Doha-based Al-Jazeera network of serving as the MB mouthpiece.
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry was quick to retort that the country’s judiciary was independent and professional.
Spokesman Ahmed Abu-Zeid said it was not surprising that such comments should come from a government that had “devoted resources and efforts over the past years to mobilise its media mouthpieces to be hostile to the people of Egypt and her State and institutions.”
Betrayed the trust
Amnesty International went further in its attack against Egypt, reaching new heights in brazen rhetoric. It criticised the trial as “appalling”, and called for the death sentences to be immediately overturned and for the “ludicrous charges against the journalists to be dropped”.
“Egypt’s broken and utterly corrupted justice system is now little more than a handy tool for the authorities’ repression of any vestiges of opposition or criticism,” said Magdalena Mughrabi-Talhami, Amnesty’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Judge Muhammad Shirin Fahmy said that the court had heard the testimony of 48 witnesses and the detailed defence of the defendants over 99 court sessions before issuing its verdict.
Under standard procedure in cases of capital punishment, his recommendation went to the office of the Grand Mufti, Egypt’s top Muslim authority in Islamic law, for endorsement.
Judge Fahmy quoted the Mufti’s office as saying the six who were sentenced to death had sought to harm the country by passing to a foreign nation details of the army’s deployment and reports by intelligence agencies.
“They are worse than spies,” he said, “because spies are usually foreigners, but these are, regrettably, Egyptians who betrayed the trust. No ideology can ever justify the betrayal of one’s country.”
22 June 2016