Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Former Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi and 24 other political and public figures, including Muslim Brotherhood members, have been referred to the country’s criminal court on charges relating to insulting the judiciary, judicial sources in Egypt said on Sunday.
The charges state that in a speech given days before he was ousted, Mursi accused the judge in charge of the country’s 2005 and 2010 parliamentary elections of overseeing fraudulent polls, during a time, under Mubarak’s rule, when Mursi was a Brotherhood candidate.
Egyptian judge Mahmoud El-Sherif told Asharq Al-Awsat on Sunday that insulting judges was “a crime which was the responsibility of the criminal court,” meaning such a charge could involve a prison sentence or a fine. The maximum prison sentence, according to Egyptian law, is three years.
This marks the fourth trial that Mursi is currently facing, having also been accused of instigating a mass prison break during the revolution in 2011, inciting violence against protesters at the presidential palace during late 2012 when he was president, and conspiring with foreign organizations, including Hezbollah and Hamas, in order to commit acts of terrorism, the latter a charge which carries the death penalty.
Other prominent Muslim Brotherhood figures have been charged alongside the former president including the former supreme guide of the organization, Mahdi Akef, the former chairman of the Brotherhood’s now-dissolved political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), Saad Al-Katatni, and the former general-secretary of the FJP, Mohamed El-Beltagy.
Mohamed Al-Dumati, the head of the legal defense team of the Brotherhood leaders on trial alongside Mursi, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The difficulty which faces the defense team is that there is political animosity between the Brotherhood and some judges and members of the prosecution, which affects the course of the legal cases.”
Mursi had a tense relationship with the country’s judiciary during his rule, with events coming to a head after he issued a controversial constitutional declaration on November 22, 2012, granting himself unchecked and sweeping powers which included denying judges the power to dissolve either the Constituent Assembly tasked at the time with drafting the country’s previous constitution in 2013, or the upper house of parliament, the Shura Council.
The decision prompted a nationwide strike by judges which threatened to bring the country’s entire judicial system to a halt.
The Muslim Brotherhood also had plans to reform the judiciary by reducing their retirement age, which would have meant the departure of more than 3,000 judges.
The Egyptian Judges’ Club, a professional organization for members of the country’s judiciary, filed lawsuits during Mursi’s rule against political, parliamentary and media figures on allegations of insulting the judiciary. The Club’s General Assembly, however, decided to drop the lawsuits against some media figures who subsequently supported the judges in their conflict with the Mursi administration.
Among those who were referred to court along with Mursi are well-known political figures including Abdul Rahman Youssef Al-Qaradawi—son of Islamic preacher Youssef Al-Qaradawi—prominent blogger Alaa Abdelfattah and former MP Amr Hamzawi, the latter two liberals who have rejected the ouster of Mursi despite their strong opposition to his rule.
Media figures also referred include pro-Brotherhood journalist Nour El Din Abdelhafiz, as well as editor-in-chief of Sawt Al-Ummah newspaper Abdelhalim Qandil and TV host Tawfiq Okashah. The latter two supported Mursi’s ouster.
Others included Islamist lawyers Mamdouh Ismail and Muntasser Al-Zayyat, and preacher Wagdi Ghoneim, who currently resides in London.
This comes as Egypt’s election committee announced on Saturday that 98.1 percent of voters had approved a new, military-backed constitution, with 38.6 percent of the country’s more than 53 million eligible voters taking part in the poll which took place on January 14–15.
In December Egypt’s military-backed interim government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, blaming it for a spate of attacks targeting police and security institutions and personnel since Mursi’s ouster in July.