An Egyptian military court Tuesday convicted 16 men of belonging to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and sentenced them to up to five years in prison. The judge said the defendants wanted to sabotage the constitution and the law.
The defendants, mostly academics and professionals, were accused of subversion, of attempting to incite others to rebel against the government, and of recruiting new members for the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Egyptian government banned the group in 1954, accusing it of advocating the overthrow of the government.
Leaders of the group say they renounced violence decades ago and, instead, attempt to use democratic means to transform Egypt into an Islamic state.
Today members of the group are allowed to work through other political parties but cannot form their own. During the 2000 parliamentary elections, 17 candidates supported by the Muslim Brotherhood won seats as independents.
Hala Mustafa, an expert on Muslim fundamentalist groups at the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said while the government of Hosni Mubarak is tolerant of the Muslim Brotherhood, it still has deep misgivings about the group. "The problem is even though they abandoned violence and accepted to work through the political channels in the society, still their main or final goal and target is confined to change, radically, the nature and type of state and society, and they are looking for what they call an Islamic state," she said. "In other words, their target is to overthrow the regime through peaceful means."
At the trial on Tuesday, the presiding judge said the defendants wanted to seize power after sabotaging the constitution and the law.
Of the 16 people convicted, two university professors, an accountant, an engineer and a businessman received the harshest sentence - five years in prison. The 11 others were sentenced to three years in prison. Six people were acquitted.
Local and international human rights groups have criticized Egypt for using military courts to try civilians, saying the trials violate a defendant's right to a trial before an impartial jury. During military trials, judges decide the verdicts, and only President Mubarak has the power to overturn them.