Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohamed Morsi, appeared in court in Cairo this week, where he is on trial for conspiracy to commit terrorism. Calling it the largest conspiracy in the history of Egypt, the prosecution is presenting evidence of a terrorist plot, dating as far back as 2005, involving coordination between Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah and the government of Iran. Morsi is one of 36 people on trial. On Sunday, the former president’s attorney objected to his client being held in a soundproof booth during the proceedings, complaining that he could not hear him speak. The judges have continued the matter for further hearing to February 23.
Morsi and the other defendants are being tried for crimes committed in connection with a January 28, 2011 prison break. The prosecution claims that over 800 fighters illegally entered Egypt that month via cross-border tunnels from Gaza. The militants were provided with Egyptian identity cards, vehicles and fuel. They then proceeded to stage attacks on three prisons, including the prison where Morsi and the men who would later become his presidential cabinet were being held.
During the attacks, over 50 police personnel and inmates were killed. The prisons were looted of equipment, as well as millions of pounds worth of products made in prison factories. More than 20,000 prisoners escaped, along with Morsi and other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. Some reports have said the number of escapees was as high as 24,000.
The day of the prison breaks, the Egyptian government had disabled the country’s cell phone and internet services. Despite this obstacle, witnesses claimed to see Morsi just outside the prison walls giving an interview by satellite phone with Al-Jazeera, raising questions regarding whether the Qatar-based media network had prior knowledge of the attack.
In January, Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat, announced the decision to prosecute 20 Al-Jazeera reporters in a case known in Egypt as the “Marriott Cell.” The name is a reference to the network’s informal Cairo bureau.
Alongside Egypt’s Morsi, other Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including Mohamed Badie, Khairat El-Shater and Mahmoud Ezzat, are on trial for conspiracy to commit terrorism. Prosecutors claim the Brotherhood intended to send fighters to Gaza for military training by Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
Morsi became president after the 2012 elections. Magdy Azer, President of the Coptic Assembly, an organization of over 200,000 Coptic immigrants in Southern California, stated that Morsi’s victory was the result of massive voter intimidation and fraud. According to Azer, a case has been filed by the District Attorney for the majority Coptic town of Al-Minya in northern Egypt, alleging that armed Muslim Brotherhood militants surrounded the town on election day, and threatened to kill any resident who attempted to vote.
This same intimidation tactic, asserted Azer, was employed in at least three other predominantly Christian towns in Upper Egypt. The leader of the election-day attacks is said to have been Asm Abd El-Magad, who was imprisoned for the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat. El-Magad is said to have been among the January 28, 2011 prison escapees.
In July of 2013, millions of Egyptians took to the streets to protest abuses by the Morsi government. As a result, Morsi and his cohorts were removed from office and arrested. Members of the Brotherhood protested the ouster and subsequently over 1,500 people have been killed during armed attacks on government installations. Approximately one-third of those killed have been government security forces, and the other two-thirds were militants.
Islamic militant groups have been committing increasing numbers of bombings and shooting attacks against both civilians and security forces. Last Saturday, a tour bus was bombed in the Sinai Peninsula, killing four South Korean tourists. 19 members of the Brotherhood were arrested the same day in the town of Ismailia. Military spokesman, Col. Ahmed Ali said the men were in possession of machine guns, explosives and police uniforms.
The Egyptian Interior Ministry issued a statement saying a 29-year-old Brotherhood member in the coastal province of Damietta was arrested during a march when he was discovered with 15 firebombs. In December, the Muslim Brotherhood was declared by the government to be a terrorist organization. Now former president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, is on trial, along with 35 other members of the Muslim Brotherhood, for conspiracy to commit terrorism.
By Melissa Roddy