(Updates with comments from Islamists in fifth paragraph.)
Aug. 25 (Bloomberg) -- The trial of the supreme guide of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and two of his deputies on charges of inciting violence started in their absence as the Islamist group faces its toughest crackdown in over three decades.
In a separate case, former ruler Hosni Mubarak appeared in the court to answer charges relating to his alleged role in the death of protesters in 2011, when a mass uprising led to his ouster and opened the door for the Brotherhood’s rise to power and subsequent fall with the deposing of President Mohamed Mursi.
The start of criminal proceedings against Mohammed Badie, the Brotherhood’s top leader, along with Khairat el-Shater and Rashed Bayoumi, comes days after Mubarak was released from prison under a court order and moved to house arrest. It marked part of the military-backed government’s attempt to quash the Islamist organization and stabilize the country after clashes left nearly 1,000 people dead since Mursi’s July 3 ouster.
Badie and other Brotherhood officials face allegations of inciting violence that led to the death of protesters outside the group’s headquarters in Cairo in July. The three leaders could face the death penalty if convicted.
An umbrella group of Islamists, including the Brotherhood, took note of what it saw as the irony of Mubarak’s release and the trial of the group’s leaders.
While authorities were targeting “honored and free men, and arresting them and charging them with false claims,” Mubarak, “who spoiled the lives of Egyptians for the past three decades, is released,” the National Coalition for Legitimacy said in an e-mailed statement.
Cairo criminal court Judge Mohamed el-Armouti adjourned the hearing until Oct. 29 and said the defendants, who were unable to attend due to security concerns, would be present at the next sitting. The proceedings were broadcast on al-Hayat.
Officials have termed the Brotherhood’s members as terrorists and broke up its sit-in camps on Aug. 14 in Cairo, triggering a week of clashes that claimed the lives of around 900 people and dozens of casualties in the security force.
Mubarak’s appearance in court was the first since he was freed from prison on Aug. 22 and moved to a military hospital. The Brotherhood claims that the interim government is intent on reviving the old regime. The deposed leader, who appeared fit after reports of his ailing health, wore a white jumpsuit and sun glasses while seated in a wheel chair in the defendants’ cage.
With him in court were his sons Alaa and Gamal, as well as his longtime security chief Habib el-Adli and six other security officials. Mubarak was found guilty of failing to halt the killing of protesters during the 2011 uprising and was sentenced to life only to have the verdict overturned on appeal.
The trial was adjourned until Sept. 14 after the court ordered that committees be set up to investigate corruption related charges, the export of Egyptian natural gas to Israel and the kinds of weapons used during the uprising.
Interim Prime Minister Hazem El Beblawi told reporters yesterday the decision to place Mubarak under house arrest was taken for his own safety, and stressed the move to free him was taken by the courts and was not an attempt by the government to reinstate the old regime, state-run Al-Ahram reported.
The government has vowed to press ahead with its roadmap to transition Egypt after the ouster of Mursi, who has been held at an undisclosed location since Defense Minister Abdelfatah al- Seesi’s July 3 announcement that he had been deposed.
As part of that process, a 10-member expert panel was to submit to interim President Adly Mansour a draft of the amended constitution. The changes to the charter, which was suspended when Mursi was ousted, remove several alterations introduced under his leadership and which created an uproar among his opponents, who said the process had been dominated by Islamists.
The draft, carried by the state-run Middle East News Agency, disbands Shura Council, parliament’s upper house, and raises the number of members of parliamet’s lower house to 450. It said parliamentary elections would be based on the fielding of individuals instead of party lists, according to the draft obtained by MENA. The shift was a marked departure for the system in place under the last parliamentary vote in which parties were allocated two-thirds of the seats, with the remainder earmarked for individuals.
The Supreme Constitutional Court had issued rulings leading to the disbanding of parliament’s lower house, in which the Brotherhood and other Islamists had a majority. Added to the charter was an article saying that the president could be accused of crimes with the approval of two-thirds of the parliament and after an investigation by the prosecutor-general.
--Editors: Kim McLaughlin, Alaa Shahine