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Explainer: Why is Morsi on trial?

Egypt's ousted president faces charges of incitement to murder, espionage and organising a prison break.

Last updated: 09 Jan 2014 13:33
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A civil complaint filed against Morsi alleges he spent too much public money on "ducks and grilled meat" [EPA]

Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically-elected president, has been charged with a seemingly endless slate of crimes since he was overthrown by the army on July 3. He is currently being held in Borg el-Arab prison in the northern city of Alexandria, accused of everything from using artillery to break out of jail in 2011 to stealing chickens.

Incitement to murder

The first charges against Morsi, for incitement to murder, were filed in September, two months after his overthrow.

The allegations against the former president date back to December 2012, when protesters gathered outside the presidential palace, angry about a decree through which Morsi granted himself near-absolute powers. Hundreds of Morsi’s supporters attacked the protest, and nine people were killed in the clashes that followed.

Morsi has been charged with inciting that violence, as have 14 other co-defendants, including leading Muslim Brotherhood members Essam el-Erian and Mohamed el-Beltagy.

They called on their supporters, prosecutors said, after commanders from the police and the Republican Guard refused an order to disperse the protesters.

All of the defendants appeared briefly in court in November, the first time Morsi had been seen in public since the coup. A second hearing on January 8 was postponed: Authorities blamed bad weather, saying they could not fly him to Cairo from his prison in Alexandria. The trial is likely to drag on for months, if not years.

Espionage

On December 18, prosecutors added another set of charges against Morsi, accusing him of espionage in what they called "the biggest conspiracy in the history of the nation".

The former president was accused of spying on Egypt for Hamas and Hezbollah, the Palestinian and Lebanese armed groups, and opening ill-defined "channels of communication" with unnamed Western countries via Turkey and Qatar. Both countries were staunch supporters of Morsi and the Brotherhood, and have been Egypt’s main diplomatic enemies since the coup.

Dozens of other people were charged in the plot, including Essam el-Haddad, who was Morsi’s top foreign affairs adviser.

Morsi and Haddad are also accused of leaking state secrets to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The long-strained relationship between Egypt and Iran improved slightly during Morsi’s year in office, with the presidents of both countries making trips to the other.

Prison break

Days after the espionage charges, prosecutors announced a third indictment against Morsi, this time for escaping from prison during the 2011 revolution.

Morsi and around 130 other people were accused of conspiring with Hamas and Hezbollah to arrange the January 2011 escape from Wadi Natroun prison. Hassan al-Samir, the investigating judge, said members of both groups were among the defendants, though he did not name them.

They face a number of charges, including murder, theft, and damaging government property. Some 20,000 inmates escaped from prison during the chaotic 18-day revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak, more than half of them from Wadi Natroun; 13 inmates were killed during the jailbreak.

Morsi’s supporters have dismissed all of the charges against him as absurd. Some of them do veer into the realm of farce: The prosecutor’s statement about the prison break, for example, accuses Morsi and others of stealing livestock from the jail.

And a lawyer filed a civil complaint against Morsi last month that accused him of abusing his authority. The issue? Morsi and his entourage reportedly spent more than LE3.2 million ($460,000) on "ducks, chicken and grilled meat" during his year in office.

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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