The Trial of Mohamed Morsi

90px-Mohamed_Morsi-05-2013My graduate student, Professor Mohamed Abdelaal of Alexandria University in Egypt, offers these thoughts about the trial of deposed Egyptian President Morsi below the fold:

Mohamed Morsi’s appearance in the courtroom on November 4, 2013, marked the start of the second trial of an Egyptian president in less than three years. There is no doubt that the trials of the two former presidents, Morsi and Mubarak, indicate a radical shift on Egyptians’ view of the presidency after the 2011 Revolution, that it is a mandate not a mere honoree. Likewise, both trials reveal a significant increase in Egyptians’ awareness of the concept of accountability, notwithstanding the controversy that can be raised regarding the legitimacy of what had happened. However, the urgent question right now is, can Morsi have a fair trial?

Right from the start, authorities in Egypt opened the door of speculations regarding whether Morsi will be treated in a way that guarantees him a fair trial. Specifically, after being removed from the presidency, Morsi was detained at an unknown facility instead of a well-known state prison, which was justified by the Egyptian authorities as an attempt to secure him and prevent any attempt by the ousted president’s supporters to raid the state’s prisons if they knew that Morsi was detained at one of them. Additionally, according to Morsi’s testimony as well as that of his lawyers, no lawyers were allowed to attend his interrogation sessions at his unknown custody which is, if true, a clear violation of the accused’s rights according to the Egyptian Criminal Procedures Law. Further, Morsi disclosed to his lawyers that the state prosecutors were driven blindfolded to the place of his detention in order to interrogate him.

Certainly, Morsi severely offended the judiciary when he accused it of deliberately acquitting high-ranking officials who served under Mubarak and contributed to the corruption in Egypt, and saying that some judges were responsible for rigging elections and referendums in the Mubarak era. However, it was intolerable mistake when the judiciary agreed to be part of the political game in Egypt. Unaware of the correct political concepts, the media, judges, and activists in Egypt brought the judiciary to the political arena when they granted it institutionalized status under desperate assertions from people in power, that Egypt is an institutionalized state that the country’s institutions are supposed to take part in the process of determining how the country should function politically. Bearing this in mind, and considering that it was recognized as such an institution, the judiciary to some extent became an evident actor in the decision-making process.

During Morsi’s regime, Egypt’s judiciary became more involved in the political sphere to the extent that partisan interests and political ideologies dominated the performance of many judges. The intense debate over the legitimacy of the 2012 Constitutional Declaration issued by the now-ousted Morsi, as well as the dismissal of General Prosecutor Adbul majid Mahmoud in 2012, significantly contributed to the politicization of the judiciary. Specifically, the Declaration resulted in an ugly division among judges in which those who supported President Morsi established a coalition, Qudah mn agel Masir (Judges for Egypt’s sake), to defend the Declaration’s legitimacy. On the other hand, those who opposed the Declaration, led by counselor Ahmed Al-Zend, the Chairman of the Egypt’s Judges Club, stood on the opposite side calling for the toppling of Morsi’s legitimacy. The full extent of the judiciary’s politicization and disgruntlement with President Morsi was revealed when the Chairman of the Egyptian Supreme Judicial Council delivered a statement shortly after that of General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi on June 30, in which he praised the Army and applauded its role in overthrowing the president.

Interestingly, Morsi appeared in court on November 4 to face charges of incitement to kill protesters at the presidential palace in December of 2012. However, the indictment did not include the Minister of Interior in Morsi’s regime, who according to numerous rumors had refused to order the police forces to secure the presidential palace, which led leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood to call their supporters to defend the palace and the president, resulting in the severe clashes between them and the protesters causing many injuries and deaths.

These facts create significant doubt regarding the impartiality of Morsi’s trial. In other words, does Morsi stand before an arbiter who is also his political opponent? Is the intense conflict between Morsi and the judiciary likely to shape the outcome of his trial? Indeed, Morsi’s trial could be a great opportunity for the judiciary to show how the rule of law is fully respected in Egypt by guaranteeing his rights to a fair trial. Morsi’s judges should rise above their political and partisan interests and conduct a fair trial where nothing influences their decisions but the rule of law their consciences.

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