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Fresh assault on Brotherhood as Al Jazeera journalist arrested in Egypt

Appeals for new judges in Morsi trial denied, as reports emerge of the detention of another Al Jazeera journalist
Tensions between security services and Muslim Brotherhood supporters remain high

The Egyptian authorities dealt a fresh blow to the Muslim Brotherhood Wednesday, denying a request to replace the judges overseeing the trial of ousted president Mohammed Morsi.

The news comes amidst a string of actions also taken today against the Brotherhood and its alleged state sponsor Qatar. Reports have now surfaced concerning the arrest of another Al Jazeera journalist – Abdel Rahman Shaheen - in the Suez region, although the news has yet to be confirmed. Three other Al Jazeera journalists are already in jail and due to appear in court again tomorrow.

Earlier in the day, reports also emerged that an Egyptian court hearing a lawsuit that would see Qatar labelled a “state sponsor of terrorism” had adjourned proceedings until next week, judicial sources told Turkish news agency Anadolu.

Egypt’s rulers are angry with Qatar for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which they recently declared a terrorist organisation. As part of the feud, authorities have implemented a crackdown on Qatar’s Al Jazeera television station that they say supports the Brotherhood and spreads false news.

The continued imprisonment of the Al Jazeera journalists along with Morsi’s trials have captured international headlines, with human-rights groups widely condemning their detention and questioning the legitimacy of the legal process.

Defence lawyers had petitioned for the removal of the judge overseeing two of Morsi’s three trials on the basis that the court was unconstitutional as Morsi was Egypt's rightful president. Other violations, such as the court's refusal to remove soundproof glass used during the trial and the perceived biase of the judges had also placed the trial's legitimacy in doubt. 

Morsi is on trial alongside dozens of co-conspirators who face charges including plotting with Hamas to carry out acts of terrorism and orchestrating a prison break during the 2011 revolution. Morsi also stands accused of inciting the murder of anti-government protesters killed in 2012.

The Muslim Brotherhood, however, publicly professes that it is a peaceful institution. In a statement also issued today, the group’s Qatar-based Secretary-General Mahmoud Hussein insisted that its means and objections has remained peaceful, despite the widening crackdown on their members.  

"The group's activities and struggle against corruption and despotism have always been based on a total commitment to peacefulness and rejection of violence in all its forms," he said.

"The group never responded, in word or deed, to those who brutally tortured its members from 1954 to 1965," he said, referring to the era of late president Gamal Abdel-Nasser, who ordered a crackdown on the Brotherhood after accusing its leaders of plotting an attempt on his life.

"Around 50,000 Brotherhood members were also subject to a mass arrest campaign under [ousted] president Hosni Mubarak [who ruled from 1981 to 2011] – some of whom were killed, tortured or brought before military courts – and yet we never resorted to violence," Hussein added.

Since the army's July 3 ousting of elected president Mohamed Morsi – himself a Brotherhood leader – after only one year in office, the interim authorities have conducted a massive crackdown on the group and its supporters, leaving hundreds dead and thousands imprisoned. 

What charges does Morsi face?

Morsi is currently a defendant in three separate court cases all of which are running concurrently. The proceedings have been adjourned various times with countless hiccups and delays holding up the trial. While certain media were allowed to attend parts of the initial trials, they are now largely excluded from the proceedings.

The defence contests that all the trials are unconstitutional as Morsi remains Egypt’s rightful, democratically elected president.

Case One – Espionage

Morsi and 35 other leading Brotherhood figures stand accused of conspiring with foreign forces including Hamas and Iran to commit acts of terrorism in Egypt.

The prosecution has argued that Morsi pursued these external ties in order "to achieve the purpose of the international organisation of the Brotherhood."

All those found guilty of espionage or treason could face the death penalty, which the Egyptian courts have proven all too willing to hand out to brotherhood supporters. The trial kicked off in February and was the last of Morsi’s trials to get under way.

Case Two – Prison break  

Morsi and 130 others also stand accused of orchestrating a mass prison break during the 2011 revolution that toppled president Hosni Mubarak after almost 30 years in power.

Morsi, alongside a few dozen other Brotherhood key figures, was imprisoned in the large Wadi El-Natroun prison complex north of Cairo at the time of the prison break. He claims that local residents spontaneously freed the prisoners, but prosecutors contest that the thousands of politically sensitive prisoners, including Hamas and Hezbollah members, were released in order to wreak havoc on Egypt.

Morsi and his co-defendants all stand accused of "carrying out a plot to bring down the Egyptian state and its institutions" and have been charged with damaging and setting fire to prison buildings, murder, attempted murder, looting prison weapons depots.

Case Three – Incitement to murder

The last case has not been as widely publicised of late, but it was the first official charge slapped on Morsi following his oust and subsequent arrest.

Morsi and 14 other brotherhood figures stand accused of "committing acts of violence, and inciting killing and thuggery" which lead to the deaths of at least seven people in December 2012.

Clashes erupted in Cairo after what a perceived power grab by Morsi which prompted protests to break out outside the presidential palace.

In pre-trail testimony security services, and in particular the Republican Guard have made damming statements saying Morsi ordered them to crack down on protests in spite warnings this could cause civilian casualties.