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November 03, 2013

Egypt on Edge Ahead of Morsi Trial

by Elizabeth Arrott

Security is tight ahead of the trial of Egypt's deposed president Mohamed Morsi, set to open Monday in Cairo.  Animosity is running high on all sides, and a renewed wave of anti-Americanism prompted by the visit of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry adds to the tensions.

Morsi is charged with inciting murder during clashes outside the presidential palace last year, sparked by his temporary claim of extraordinary powers.  Fourteen other senior members of his Muslim Brotherhood and his former government are also being tried.  Other charges are pending.

It is unclear if Morsi will appear in person, or by video link.  He has been held in an undisclosed location since he was toppled by the military July 3rd, following mass protests. 

A member of his legal team has rejected the court's jurisdiction.

Ahmed Abdel Gawad said they did not recognize the legal proceedings.  But in conceding the trial would go ahead, he insisted there must be a live, international broadcast of all sessions. 

In contrast to evidence presented in the trial of Egypt's other ousted president, Hosni Mubarak, political analyst Hisham Kassem thinks the case against Morsi could be strong.

“Unlike Mubarak, Morsi did not have the services supporting him when he came under. Again unlike Mubarak he was not very clever about covering his face and I think he is going to end with enough evidence presented to be there a number of serious cases against him,” said Kassem.

Tensions are running high as the military-backed government continues its crackdown against Morsi supporters and other Islamists.  Human Rights Watch said Saturday that 1,300 people have died in confrontations since July and asked, "What will it take for authorities to rein in security forces?"

Most of the anti-interim government protests are peaceful, recently spreading to university campuses.  But there are also attacks on security forces, especially in the Sinai peninsula, by militant Islamists.   Pro-government media often conflate the protests and attacks as terrorist movements.

With Islamist media largely shut down, most remaining media have adopted a pro-military stance.  One of the nation's most popular political satirists, Bassem Youssef, who delighted audiences by poking fun at the Morsi government, was taken off the air Friday after he skewered the current wave of neo-nationalism.

One of the few issues most Egyptians can agree on - anti-Americanism - has been highlighted by the visit Sunday of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.  Both pro- and anti-military forces feel Washington has not done enough to support their side, and officials have spoken of how they are seeking alliances elsewhere.

The U.S. suspended some aid to the new government, but will continue cooperation on counter-terrorism and other key issues, including peace negotiations between Israel and  the Palestinians.

Political analyst Kassem thinks relations will weather the current storm.

“I think we are seeing here the reality of the situation which is how deep Egyptian-American relations are and what we see as a crisis is really of face value, but behind closed doors there is a very solid relationship,” he said.

However, solid international ties may be, new fractures within Egyptian society appear almost daily from a myriad of sources.  Nine people were killed in Assiut Saturday - not over politics, but in a dispute sparked by who was first in line to buy bread.