Middle East

What's become of Egypt's Morsi?

Mohammed Morsi stands inside a glassed-in defendant's cage (16 June 2015)
Image caption Mohammed Morsi has rejected the authority of the courts to try him

A court in Egypt has confirmed a death sentence handed to ousted President Mohammed Morsi for his involvement in a mass prison break during the 2011 revolution.

Morsi was overthrown by the military in July 2013 following mass protests a year after he took office as the country's first democratically elected leader.

How did he end up in court?

Morsi was elected president a year after an uprising brought an end to Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule. During his 12 months in power, Morsi was seen by many Egyptians as preoccupied with establishing political control rather than tackling economic and social problems.

Image caption The crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood has been portrayed as a struggle against "terrorism"

On the first anniversary of his taking office, opponents of Morsi organised demonstrations that saw millions take to the streets to demand his resignation. Three days later, then military chief - and now president - Abdul Fattah al-Sisi overthrew Morsi.

The interim authorities subsequently launched a crackdown on Morsi's supporters, in which more than 1,400 people were killed and thousands detained.

Morsi and his top advisers were held incommunicado by the military for several months before prosecutors began filing charges against them. He has since been detained at a high-security prison near the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.


What has he been convicted of?

DETENTION AND TORTURE OF PROTESTERS

In the first verdict issued against him, Morsi was sentenced to 20 years of hard labour in April 2015 after being found guilty of ordering the unlawful detention and torture of opposition protesters during clashes with Brotherhood supporters outside the Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo in December 2012.

Image caption Most of those killed in the clashes outside the Ittihadiya palace were Brotherhood supporters

Morsi was, however, cleared of inciting Brotherhood supporters to murder two protesters and a journalist - a charge that could have carried the death penalty.

PRISON BREAKS

In May 2015, Morsi and more than 100 other people was sentenced to death after being convicted of colluding with foreign militants - from the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas and Lebanon's Shia Islamist Hezbollah movement - to organise a mass prison break during the uprising against Hosni Mubarak. Morsi was being held at Wadi Natroun prison in January 2011 when armed men overcame the guards, freeing thousands of inmates. He and his co-defendants, including senior Brotherhood officials, were also found guilty of the murder and kidnapping of guards, damaging and setting fire to prison buildings and looting the prison's weapons depot. In June 2015, a court upheld the death sentence against Morsi and 98 others after consulting Egypt's grand mufti.

ESPIONAGE

Morsi was also given a life sentence in May 2015 after being convicted of conspiring to commit terrorist acts with foreign organisations to undermine national security. Sixteen co-defendants, including three Brotherhood leaders, were sentenced to death after also being found guilty of leaking state secrets to a foreign state.

Image caption Hamas dismissed the claim it plotted with Morsi and the Brotherhood, calling it a "disgrace"

Prosecutors alleged that the Brotherhood had hatched a plan in 2005 to send "elements" to military training camps run by Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Revolutionary Guards in Iran. Upon their return, they joined forces with jihadist groups in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and helped create the instability that triggered the 2011 revolution and plagued Egypt afterwards, they said. The sentences for Morsi and his co-defendants were confirmed by a court in June.


What about the other trials?

Morsi faces separate trials on the following charges:

  • Endangering national security by leaking state secrets and sensitive documents to Qatar, which supported him as president, and the Doha-based Al Jazeera network
  • Fraud in connection with the Muslim Brotherhood's economic and social programme for Egypt's recovery, called Renaissance (al-Nahda)
  • Insulting the judiciary by naming a judge in a public speech and accusing him of overseeing fraud in previous elections

What does Morsi say?

Morsi has rejected the authority of the courts.

Image caption Morsi was forced to sit in a soundproof glass dock after disrupting the start of his first trial

At the start of his first trial, he shouted from the dock that he was the victim of a "military coup".

"I am the president of the republic, according to the constitution of the state, and I am forcibly detained," he asserted.

Since then, Morsi has been forced to sit in soundproof glass cages in courtrooms, which officials say are designed to prevent him disrupting proceedings.


Are these show trials?

Image caption Supporters of President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi have called for Morsi to be executed

The prosecution of Morsi is taking place amid a wider crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, which President Sisi has vowed to wipe out.

Morsi's supporters have said the trials are politically motivated and attempts to give legal cover to a coup. They claim they are based on unreliable witnesses and scant evidence.

Human rights activists have said Morsi's right to prepare an adequate defence has also been undermined.

In 2014, the UN warned that Egypt had "a judicial system where international fair trial guarantees appear to be increasingly trampled upon" after more than 1,200 people were sentenced to death in two mass trials "rife with procedural irregularities".


Could Morsi be executed?

Image caption The Muslim Brotherhood's general guide, Mohamed Badie, has been sentenced to death

Judges have already sentenced to death several other senior figures in the Muslim Brotherhood, including its general guide, Mohammed Badie. However, none have so far been executed.

All death sentences have to be sent to the grand mufti, Egypt's highest religious authority, for his opinion on whether they should stand. But even when the grand mufti gives his approval, convictions are still open to appeal.

Experts also believe a death sentence for Morsi would be unlikely to be carried out. H A Hellyer of the Brookings Centre for Middle East Policy said it would "represent an escalation by the Egyptian authorities that they do not appear willing to engage in".

Brotherhood leader Amr Darrag said the confirmation of Morsi's death sentence was a symbol "of the dark shadow of authoritarianism that is now cast back over Egypt".


What's happened to Hosni Mubarak?

Mr Mubarak was charged with conspiring in the killing of hundreds of protesters during the 2011 uprising. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison in 2012, but the Court of Cassation overturned the conviction and ordered a retrial in 2013. The charge was dropped in November 2014, but in June 2015 a judge accepted an appeal from prosecutors and ordered a retrial. Mr Mubarak is residing in a military hospital in Cairo, where he had previously been detained.