x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Letter from Cairo: Egyptian government scores PR win with Morsi trial

In what was billed as a possible political disaster, the government's handling of its case against the former Islamist president and Muslim Brotherhood members has instead raised its legitimacy.

Muslim Brotherhood supporters shout slogans outside the Police Academy where Mohammed Morsi's trial was held on November 4. AFP
Muslim Brotherhood supporters shout slogans outside the Police Academy where Mohammed Morsi's trial was held on November 4. AFP

It was supposed to be fraught with trouble.

From street protests and condemnation by foreign and domestic human-rights groups to a rousing speech by the deposed Islamist president that would ignite the streets.

It never happened.

Instead, the appearance of Mohammed Morsi in court this month proved to be a public-relations victory for the military-backed government.

The start of his trial, along with 14 other Muslim Brotherhood leaders, on charges of incitement of murder, has so far proven true the promises by authorities that Mr Morsi would receive due process.

He appeared in good health, maybe he had even put on some weight, which ended rumours that his detention since he was overthrown following mass protests on July 3 had hurt his health or that he had gone on a hunger strike.

Mr Morsi had been held in detention at an undisclosed military facility, which had been a source of concern for Egypt’s western allies.

However, when the November 4 hearing was over, he was taken to a state prison near Alexandria, which strengthened the argument that his legal case would be transparent.

His defence lawyers, including his son Osama, were allowed to speak with him on the day of his trial and visited him in the Bourg El Arab prison. They said Mr Morsi had his own cell, with a refrigerator and a television.

Mr Morsi was later moved to solitary confinement for his safety, officials said.

His next hearing is on January 8, a two-month adjournment to allow defence lawyers time to review the case.

Mr Morsi is treated by the law and there is no justification to take any measures against him that are outside the law,” said the prime minister, Hazem El Biblawy.

“Until this point, Morsi stands accused – and not convicted – and the court will look at the charges levelled against him and decide whatever it sees fit.”

Mr Morsi faces charges other than incitement to murder, which include conspiring with foreign powers against Egypt and enlisting the help of Hamas to break out of prison during the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak.

The strength of the case against him is rooted in complaints filed against him and other Brotherhood members during a riot on December 5 last year.

The riot was allegedly started when Brotherhood supporters set upon peaceful opposition protesters camped outside the presidential palace. The violence killed at least 10 people and left hundreds injured.

The Brotherhood said most of the people killed were its supporters, an assertion hotly contested by the opposition.

An important aspect of the case is that Mr Morsi’s supporters, at the behest of Brotherhood officials, set up detention centres where they tortured protesters before handing them over to the police.

The Anti-Coup Alliance, an umbrella organisation of Islamists, had called for massive protests on the first day of the trial. However, only small pockets of people turned out, lending legitimacy to the interim government.

The failure by the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies to bring out large numbers has been the topic of much debate in Egypt.

Some are speculating that, after four months of near daily protests, fatigue may have set in. Others said the relatively small protests may be an indication that the Brotherhood has moved beyond the reinstatement of Mr Morsi as the focus of its opposition campaign and may be seeking inclusion in the political process.

Others believe the Brotherhood, whose decades as an outlawed group has allowed it to hone its underground tactics, may be saving its energy and resources for another day.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae