The Cairo Criminal Court, where ousted President Mohamed Morsi will be tried in the early hours of Monday, is witnessing a case that has some arguably significant political implications.
Morsi and 14 other members of the Muslim Brotherhood are accused of inciting premeditated murder, using violence, capturing peaceful protesters and torturing them in the December Ettehadiya clashes between the group’s supporters and opposition protesters. Eleven people were killed in the clashes and scores were injured.
The trial falls into a complex political context. The police and the Muslim Brotherhood, foes for decades, are renewing their conflict through this case, each with a quest to show how much it is the other who has been responsible for the deterioration of peace and public order in the country ever since the revolution erupted in January 2011.
Unlike most cases of killing protesters since January 25, 2011, in this case, police act as witnesses while none of its members stand behind the dock. With a less vulnerable position this time, police are striving to rewrite history.
For example, in one of 80 testimonies in the case, former Minister of Interior Ahmad Gamal Eddin recounted how Morsi asked police forces to disperse a sit-in of opposition forces staged by the Ettehadiya Presidential Palace to protest a constitutional declaration announced by the ousted president to immunize his decisions from judicial oversight. Eddin, however, refused to abide by the orders of his boss.
During the investigations, Eddin explained that the Ministry of Interior’s plan when the clashes erupted was to separate between the two sides without becoming one itself. However, violence could not be controlled after Morsi called on his supporters to disperse the sit-in, he was reported as saying. Other video evidence in the case has been used to show that Morsi’s group was responsible for the killing of peaceful protesters, a narrative seen to legitimize the military move to oust him on July 3 following wide protests demanding his resignation on June 30.
Indeed, this information only unfolded after Morsi’s ouster. In the report submitted to the investigating judge by the prosecution last July, it was explained that seven months after the case started, they could not send the report due to political pressure.
But Muslim Brotherhood members are trying to use the case in an opposite direction to counter the overall condition that led to the president’s ouster. In a press conference held by Morsi’s defense team on Thursday, Mohamed al-Damaty, a spokesman for the lawyers, explained that their plan is to depart from June 30 as a counter-revolutionary force represented by the security apparatus and the judiciary which consistently refused to work with Morsi and contributed to the obstacles he found during his rule. This case and others held against Morsi is hence deemed forgery for them.
Damaty also explained that Morsi didn’t appoint a lawyer to defend him because he still believes he is the legitimate president and hence can defend himself based on this premise. Some sources close to the president were reported to say that Morsi plans to demand that the case uses the 2012 Constitution, which was suspended with his ouster by the military. The document was slammed by Morsi’s opposition for being largely a reflection of Islamist interests.
Damaty said that the case is also flawed because it falls short of proper legal procedures such as issuing an arrest warrant ahead of the referral to court. Since his ouster, Morsi has been held incommunicado, reportedly in a military facility.
A number of lawyers demanded the hearing to not be televised, fearing that it becomes a political act that stirs away from due legal process. This leaves its details unknown except for the selected excerpts which will be sanctioned by the current pro-military government.
In the documents of the case, which are said to contain about 7,000 pages, there is arguably not enough to incriminate Morsi and his collaborators during their short-term rule of Egypt. For one, the testimonies of 60 victims and a number of policemen show that those who committed the violations in Ettehadiya are not among those who are being charged in the case.
However, other cases may prove to be a more legal challenge for Morsi. The ousted president is facing other charges of spying in favor of the Gaza-based Hamas group during the January 25 revolution. The details of this case came from investigations of the prisons escape in early 2011, whereby a number of Hamas and Brotherhood detainees, Morsi included, managed to flee as the security retreated against mounting popular protests.
For the police, the case is used to show that it is the Muslim Brotherhood that actively contributed to their weakening during the January 25 revolution, rather than general popular anger. For the police also, this case can be used to further explain the security void and the killing of protesters in early 2011, most of the cases for which have ended with the acquittal of the charged policemen, leaving legal knowledge of the perpetrators blank. For example, in the case accusing former President Hosni Mubarak and seven of his collaborators of killing protesters, Mubarak and his minister of interior were accused of letting the killing happen, but the case never showed who actually committed the act of killing.
The new wave of Muslim Brotherhood cases, regardless of the level of due process in them, may be made to answer these questions.
Meanwhile, the extent to which the Brothers can keep using these cases to show that the move to oust Morsi in July is the work of institutions like the police apparatus and the judiciary is questionable.
What remains is an active rewriting of history.