Egypt's Morsi charged with inciting murder of protesters

Deposed president referred to stand trial on counts of committing and inciting violence, state news agency says

Morsi has been held at a secret location since his ouster.
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Egypt's public prosecutor referred deposed President Mohamed Morsi to trial on Sunday on charges of committing and inciting violence, the state news agency reported.

In an apparent escalation of the military-backed government’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, it was announced that Morsi along with 14 other members of the Islamist group that backed him would stand trial on counts of “committing acts of violence, and inciting killing and thuggery."

Also on Sunday, authorities named a 50-member constituent assembly containing just two Islamists, and gave it 60 days to review amendments that would erase Islamic articles brought in last year by the Brotherhood and more hardline Islamic parties.

The charges against Morsi relate to the death of protesters outside the presidential palace in December last year, while he was still in power. The demonstrations were set off in part by anger over expanded powers that the then-president had awarded himself. No date has been set for the trial of Morsi, who has been kept at a secret location since his ouster earlier this year.

The Brotherhood-backed former president also faces an investigation over an alleged conspiracy with foreign groups to break out of prison during the chaos of the country's 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak.

Morsi was removed from power in a military coup on July 3 after millions of Egyptians took to the streets demanding he step down. Protesters clashed with rival demonstrators organized in support of Morsi, resulting in a military crackdown that killed hundreds of protesters.

More than 1,000 people have died in violence across Egypt since Morsi's fall, making it the bloodiest civil unrest in the republic's 60-year history.

Charges over the death of protesters have now been lodged against two recent former presidents. Egypt's former strongman, Hosni Mubarak, is also scheduled to face trial over his government’s handling of mass protests. The 85-year-old is charged with complicity in the killing of Egyptians during demonstrations that eventually led to his ouster as part of the Arab Spring protests of 2011.

During a brief court session last week, his trial was adjourned until Sept. 14.

Mubarak, who is currently under house arrest, was initially convicted in June, 2012, and sentenced to life in prison. But he appealed and a retrial was ordered in January. Alongside the charges relating to the death of protesters, he faces a number of counts of corruption, despite being cleared of some on Aug. 25.

Meanwhile, the trial of Mohamed Badie, spiritual leader of the Brotherhood, and two of his deputies, Khairat al-Shater and Rashad Bayoumy, was also adjourned just minutes after opening on Aug. 25. None of the men appeared in court for security reasons and hearings are set to resume Oct. 29.

The three Brotherhood defendants in that case are accused of authorizing the murders of nine protesters outside the organization's headquarters on the night of June 30.  

Egyptian authorities have issued arrest warrants and detention orders for hundreds of Brotherhood members and detained several senior leaders of the group in recent weeks. According to security sources, at least 2,000 have been arrested since Aug. 14.

As more Brotherhood members are arrested, some Mubarak-era figures have walked free: former prime minister Ahmed Nazif was released earlier this year because of a limit on pre-trial detention. Former Housing Minister Ibrahim Soliman, sentenced to eight years in jail on corruption charges after the 2011 uprising, was released on Sunday pending his appeal, judicial sources said.

Justice 'turned upside down'

Mohamed Gharib, one of the lawyers defending the three Brotherhood leaders, said the trial was less an effort to try the suspects on the facts of the case than an attempt by the military to "get rid of its political foes."

Gharib said Badie had been beaten during his arrest, losing his false teeth and glasses in the process, though pictures issued soon after his arrest did not show serious injuries.

"Justice has been turned upside down. The real victims are being hauled to jails and accused of inciting killing," he said.

On Saturday it was reported that Badie had suffered a heart attack. But the Egyptian Interior Ministry later said he was "enjoying good health."

The trials of Brotherhood leaders is a sign that Egypt's new army-backed rulers are determined to crush an organization they have portrayed as violent and intent on destroying the state.

The Brotherhood, an organization that was marginalized for decades in Egyptian politics before Mubarak's fall, says it is a peaceful movement unjustly targeted by the generals who ousted Morsi -- Egypt's first freely-elected and democratic leader.

But the military contends it was responding to the people's will, citing vast demonstrations at the time against the rule of a man criticized for accumulating excessive power, pushing a partisan Islamist agenda and mismanaging the economy.

In an apparent bid to further marginalize opponents to the current government, Egyptian authorities named on Sunday a constituent assembly containing few Islamists.

It tasked the body with reviewing amendments to the constitution that would see the removal of Islamic-influenced articles, including one that gave Muslim scholars a say over some affairs of state, and also lift a ban on some Mubarak-era officials assuming public office.

Drawn up by a 10-member "committee of experts" appointed by decree, the draft preserves the privileged status of the military, which it effectively shields from civilian oversight.

Although Islamists won five popular votes held since 2011, the constituent assembly will have only two Islamists among its members -- one from the hardline Salafi Nour party, the other a former Brotherhood leader now harshly critical of the group he left last year.

"It's a very establishment list," said Nathan Brown, an expert on Egypt based at George Washington University in the U.S.

The Brotherhood has said it wants nothing to do with the army's plans for Egypt. The Nour party complained of a "disregard and exclusion of the Islamist current" in the make-up of the review panel.

Nour, which was founded after Mubarak's fall, noted that the committee left out members of the youth movements that ignited the uprising of Jan. 25, 2011, "raising doubts about the panel's position towards the revolution."

The Brotherhood and the Nour Party secured a major say over the last constitution-drafting process by winning some 70 percent of the seats in parliamentary elections held after Mubarak's downfall.

Critics said the Islamist parties then sidelined other groups in a process that failed to reflect Egypt's diversity.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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