CAIRO: Egypt’s top prosecutor Wednesday referred toppled Islamist President Mohammad Morsi to trial on charges he conspired with the Palestinian group Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and others to carry out a campaign of violence to destabilize the country following his ouster.
The charges, which carry a potential death penalty, are the most sweeping and heaviest accusations in a series of trials against the Brotherhood. The new trial of Morsi, the three top Brotherhood leaders and 32 other defendants appeared aimed at crippling the top echelons of the group that dominated Egypt’s politics during Morsi’s presidency.
Since the military ousted Morsi on July 3 following massive protests against him, security forces have unleashed a crackdown on the Brotherhood that killed hundreds of pro-Morsi protesters and arrested thousands, while the group has persisted in daily protests against the new government.
Previous, ongoing trials of Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders have focused on accusations the group is implicated in violence, but the new charges take that claim to a new level.
They link the group to a nascent Islamist militant insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula that accelerated after Morsi’s fall, and make the wider claim that the Brotherhood was enmeshed with terrorists since 2005 in deals aimed at attaining and holding onto power.
“The biggest case of conspiracy in Egypt’s history goes to the criminal court,” proclaimed the title of the prosecution announcement. Mohammad al-Damati, a Brotherhood defense lawyer, denounced the new trial – and those already started – as “political.”
In the statement, the prosecutor said that after Morsi’s ouster, “the Brotherhood and those terrorist groups carried out explosions and attacks against the military forces and police in Sinai to terrorize Egyptians and create chaos.” It said the aim was to incite civil war, restore Morsi to office and “reclaim the Brotherhood’s grip” on power.
Prosecutors claim that while president, Morsi and his aides revealed state secrets to militant groups and to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Morsi and 35 others, including the Brotherhood’s top three leaders, are also accused of sponsoring terrorism and carrying out combat training and other acts to undermine stability.
Among Morsi’s co-defendants in the new trial are top Brotherhood leader Mohammad Badie and deputy Khairat al-Shater, both also facing other trials. A second deputy, Mahmoud Ezzat, is also charged, but remains on the run. Also charged was Saad al-Katatni, head of the Brotherhood’s political party.
Hamas called the allegations “dangerous” and said it was being targeted.
“ Hamas has never been involved in Egypt’s internal affairs,” it said in a statement. “We work to protect Egypt’s borders and its national security, which is our national security.”
Damati predicted that the trial would not take place before a constitutional referendum on Jan. 14-15, because authorities want to ensure calm.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, called for a boycott of the referendum. Other allies of Morsi, including youth groups holding near daily protests since his ouster, have said they would demonstrate on referendum days.
“The military coup has intentionally worked on tarnishing the legitimate constitution which won the approval of two thirds of the people, producing a deformed one,” the party said on its website.
State media reported that as many as 200,000 members of the security forces would be assigned to protect polling stations nationwide.
The prosecutors’ statement said the Brotherhood prepared a terrorist plot that involved smuggling weapons into the country and smuggling their own members into the Gaza Strip to receive military training from Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to carry out operations in Sinai.
Prosecutors said their investigation also showed the Brotherhood received funds from foreign countries. Investigators claim the plan began as early as 2005 and was activated in 2011 during the turmoil that accompanied the uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak.
Morsi’s senior presidential aides, also Brotherhood members, revealed state secrets by emails to group members abroad, as well as to Hamas, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah, prosecutors claim. The prosecutors said Morsi was aware of the leaks.
The new charges are also linked to accusations that Morsi and the Brotherhood worked with Hamas on a prison break that freed him and other members of the group during Egypt’s 2011 uprising. The prison break left 14 inmates dead. At least 17 of the 35 people charged with Morsi are on the run, prosecutors said.