CSP, by Aaron Kliegman, April 21, 2015:
Standing in a soundproof glass cage inside an Egyptian courtroom, former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi listened as Judge Ahmed Youssef of the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced him to 20 years in prison for inciting violence and the torture of protestors outside the presidential palace in December 2012.
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of Morsi attacked and detained protesters who objected to the president’s referendum on an Islamist-drafted constitution, leading to significant violence that resulted in the deaths of at least ten people.
12 Muslim Brotherhood leaders and Islamist supporters also received 20-year sentences, including prominent figures Mohammed el-Beltagy and Essam el-Erian. The judge dropped murder charges for Morsi and the others and said that the punishments were connected to the “show of force” and unlawful detentions linked to the case.
Morsi can appeal his conviction but is standing trial for three other cases, two of which relate to charges of espionage. In one case, Morsi and other Brotherhood defendants are “accused of spying and leaking confidential general and military intelligence documents to Qatari intelligence and the Qatari satellite channel Al Jazeera.” Qatar’s support of terrorism is much noted in the press, and this case suggests the possibility of Morsi putting Islamist loyalty before his country’s national security.
Morsi is also accused of working with Hamas – a terrorist group and the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood – and Hezbollah – an Iranian proxy terrorist organization – to smuggle arms and organize training groups, among other activities, including supplying Iran and Hezbollah with state secrets.
The third case is connected to a 2011 jailbreak. 19 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including Morsi, allegedly broke out of an Egyptian prison and collaborated with Hamas and Hezbollah to do so. Morsi is also scheduled to start a fifth trial in May on charges of insulting the judiciary.
When Tuesday’s sentence was announced, Morsi was generally silent and raised the r4bia, the four-finger sign of the Muslim Brotherhood, a far different reaction than earlier in the trail when he repeatedly shouted, “I am the president of the republic!” and did not recognize the court as legal.
Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mohamed Montasser threatened on Twitter that “sentencing the president won’t pass. The revolution will be ignited, popular anger will increase and we promise you unexpected revolutionary surprises.”
Morsi’s sentence and the Brotherhood’s call to violence is the culmination of the Brotherhood’s fall from power after Morsi was elected president of Egypt in June 2012. Morsi’s ties to Islamist groups and terrorism, however, far precede his reign as Egypt’s leader, going back to his early life and manifesting in significant, troubling ways when he came to power through being ousted from office.
Mohamed Mohamed Morsi Issa Ayyat was born on August 20, 1951 in Sharqiya, Egypt on the Nile River Delta. He studied engineering at Cairo University, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1975 and a master’s degree in 1978. He traveled to the United States for his doctorate in engineering, which he received in 1982, at the University of Southern California, where Morsi joined the Muslim Student Association, the Muslim Brotherhood’s leading front group in the U.S.
The Muslim Brotherhood is the primary international Islamist organization intent on imposing sharia law under a caliphate and is the group from which most other jihadist organizations – including terrorist groups like al-Qaeda – are created.
After Morsi joined the Brotherhood and finished school, he stayed in academia as an assistant professor at the University of North Ridge in California until returning to Egypt in 1985 to teach at Zagazig University; he remained a professor there until 2010.
The future Egyptian president rose through the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood as a loyal soldier, not a man of ideas but an “implementer of policy.” Abdel-Sattar el-Meligi, a former senior Brotherhood figure who left the group, said that “Morsi has no talents but he is faithful and obedient to the group’s leaders, who see themselves as above the other Muslims. Morsi would play any role the leaders assign him to, but with no creativity and no uniqueness.”
In the late 1980s, Morsi was a member of a Brotherhood “anti-Zionist” committee near his hometown, which rejected normalization with Israel. He reportedly will not meet with Israelis but will not stop others from doing so.
Morsi later joined the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau in 1995 before being elected to parliament in 2000 as an independent candidate; the Brotherhood was banned from seeking elected office under Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. Morsi, however, was the group’s spokesman in parliament and served until losing his seat in 2005.
In 2007, Morsi led the Brotherhood’s attempt to create a political platform that called for restricting the Egyptian presidency to Muslim men and forming a council of Islamic scholars to approve or disapprove all legislation as sharia-compliant. Some Brothers, especially youths, disapproved of such overtly political actions and wanted to focus on social services, but Morsi helped purge the organization of such dissenters.
Morsi continued to be active in the Brotherhood and fighting Mubarak’s rule. Mubarak was an authoritarian ruler but an ally of the U.S. who ensured peace with Israel, stabilized the country, and was relatively tame compared to other contemporary authoritarians.
Mubarak was deposed from power in February 2011, and the Brotherhood subsequently formedthe Freedom and Justice Party, with Morsi as its chairman. The Islamist organization became the most organized political party in the country, and Morsi was eventually chosen as its presidential candidate.
After initially overtly calling for the implementation of sharia law in Egypt, Morsi later disguised his rhetoric to have a more centrist appearance. Morsi became Egypt’s first democratically elected president in June 2012, although there is evidence that the election was rigged. He quickly forgot his campaign’s centrist approach and surrounded himself and filled his cabinet with Brotherhood-affiliated personnel. He even united with Salafist organizations to hold a large demonstration after taking power.
Beyond mishandling Egypt’s economy and being unable to revive it and falling back on his promises of social justice by making the Brotherhood dominant, Morsi almost immediately took steps toward autocratic rule.
First, Morsi seized legislative and constitutional-writing authorities and also removed much of the military leadership in August 2012. In November, Morsi issued a decree granting him far-reaching powers and saying his orders were not subject to judicial oversight until Egypt had a new constitution – an effort to ensure the Brotherhood crafted an Islamist constitution for Egypt.
The constituent assembly then rushed a version of the constitution to approval despite the objections of liberals, secularists, and the Coptic Church. Morsi soon issued another decree authorizing the military to protect polling places and national institutions until a referendum on the draft constitution occurred, a move many said amounted to martial law. Morsi’s trend to autocracy only increased into the year 2013, causing more Egyptians to become outraged and protest Morsi’s policies.
Meanwhile, Morsi was the first Egyptian to travel to Iran since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, and hosted then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an anti-American, anti-Semitic Holocaust denier, in Cairo in February 2013. Morsi also said that, while the peace treaty with Israel should not be abandoned, it should be reviewed. On Egyptian television in 2010, Morsi called Jews “apes and pigs.”
Eventually in the summer of 2013, one year after Morsi was elected, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi led the military removal of Morsi from power, exercising the apparent will of the Egyptian people. Egyptians became increasingly outraged over Morsi’s policies, and protests became massive, numbering in the millions. Sisi later became president of Egypt and is still in office today.
Morsi’s fall from power was his own doing. He galvanized Egypt’s anti-authoritarian feelings against Mubarak and made grand promises, but once in power, he tried to make himself an autocrat to institute an Islamist system. Furthermore, his anti-western and anti-Israeli sentiments, along with his dealings with terrorist organizations and unfriendly countries, put him at odds with American interests. The Egyptian people sensed danger as Morsi governed and took to the streets calling for change.
Morsi’s sentencing on Tuesday signals the end of his influence and of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, at least for the near future, but the Islamist organization remains active throughout the world. There are Brotherhood leaders like Morsi who are seeking power both in Egypt and elsewhere to impose identical policies and governance. It would be wise to recognize such individuals before they gain control of a country. Otherwise, history will at the very least repeat itself, if not worse.