Recent days have brought an onrush of unprecedented crises in the history of the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood. Some concern Brotherhood youth, others the old guard, and still others the leaders who have been standing trial in criminal court, most notably ousted president Mohamed Morsi.
Naturally, all these crises are interrelated and will impact one way or another on the organisation’s future. What is certain, however, is that the Muslim Brotherhood is caught up in a major internal conflict and it is impossible to predict who will emerge as the victor.
The first crisis, or Act I, revolves around the verdicts handed down against Morsi. Last Saturday, Cairo Criminal Court sentenced the former president to 40 years in prison. This brings the total number of years against him, in four of the five cases the courts have ruled on so far, up to 85 plus one death sentence.
On 18 June Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Morsi to life imprisonment and an additional 15 years in what is known as the “Qatar espionage” case. Life imprisonment in Egypt is 25 years. On 21 April 2015, Morsi was sentenced to 20 years in the “Ittihadiya” case, where he was charged with the forceful and violent obstruction of demonstrators and arresting, detaining and subjecting them to physical torture in front of the Ittihadiya Presidential Palace.
Also on 16 May 2015, the court handed down two more verdicts against him. He was sentenced to death by hanging on the charge of planning the storming of prisons and security facilities and the murder of officers and prisoners during the 2011 January revolution. He was also sentenced to life for spying for Hamas and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
Morsi was not the only Muslim Brotherhood leader to be sentenced last Saturday in the Qatar espionage case. There were 10 other co-defendants charged with spying for Qatar, leaking national security documents and selling them to the TV station Al-Jazeera.
The head of Morsi’s office, Ahmed Abdel-Ati, and Amin Al-Serafi, a presidential secretary, were also sentenced to life (25 years) on charges of having led an illegally established organisation, the purpose of which was to promote the suspension of the constitution and the law, prevent the institutions of government and public authorities from carrying out their duties, assailing the personal freedom and public rights of citizens, and harming national unity and social peace.
The charges also stated that the defendants were leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood who sought to overturn the system of government by force, attack personnel and infrastructure of the armed forces and police and target public facilities in order to disrupt public order and endanger social peace and security. The indictment stated that terrorism is one of the means the group used to attain its aims.
The court also sentenced Morsi, Al-Serafi and Karima Al-Serafi to 15 years in prison. The first two defendants were accused of having purloined papers and documents which they knew concerned matters of state security and national interests, with the intent of jeopardising the country’s military, political, diplomatic and economic position, and conveying these confidential reports (detailed in Item One, Paragraph A of the indictment), to which they had access by virtue of their official positions, from the places equipped for their safekeeping in the presidency headquarters to the third defendant.
This defendant, according to the charges, then delivered these documents and divulged the confidential information they contained to Qatar, again with the intent of jeopardising the country’s military, political, diplomatic and economic position and harming its national interests.
The court acquitted Morsi, Abdel-Ati, Amin Al-Serafi, Khaled Radian, Mohamed Kilani, Ahmed Ismail, Karima Al-Serafi and Asmaa Al-Khatib of the charge of obtaining confidential national defence information with the purpose of divulging it to a foreign country.
In this regard, the first two defendants had been accused of purloining reports and documents produced by the General Intelligence and military intelligence agencies, the Armed Forces, the national security sector and the Administrative Control Authority and containing information and data pertaining to the Armed Forces, where they were stationed or positioned, and domestic and foreign policies of the government and making these documents available to defendants three through 11 in Xerox form, with the purpose of conveying and divulging their contents to Qatar and those who work to promote the interests of that state.
Following the pronouncement of the verdicts on Saturday, Muslim Brotherhood lawyer Abdel-Moneim Abdel- Maqsoud announced that Morsi’s defence team would examine the verdict during the next 30 days so as to prepare an appeal within 60 days.
Both Turkey and Qatar were quick to condemn the verdict. The Turkish Foreign Ministry released a statement saying, as reported by the Anadolu news agency, “We condemn and express our concerns over the life sentence issued to Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president who has been imprisoned since 2013. We are of the belief that this verdict will not contribute to Egypt’s comfort and stability.”
The Qatari Foreign Ministry issued a more strongly worded statement in which it “denounced and totally rejected” the attempt to embroil the name of the state of Qatar in the verdict that the Cairo Criminal Court issued in the case commonly referred to in Egypt as the Qatar espionage case.
“Although the verdict is not final, it is devoid of accuracy and an affront to justice and the truth in view of the misleading claims the substance of which goes against Qatar’s policy toward all sister nations, including Egypt,” said Ambassador Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, director of the press office at the Qatari Foreign Ministry. He added that the accusation of espionage against former president Morsi and the journalists was both “unacceptable and astonishing”.
“This verdict is not surprising in view of the record of the Egyptian courts during the past two years of handing down death and life imprisonment to more than 1,000 people, which were then overturned by the Egyptian Court of Cassation,” Al-Rumaihi said.
“These rulings, which are devoid of justice in its proper sense and which are based on reasons that have nothing to do with the law but rather on other well-known reasons, do not help establish the bonds and relations of brotherhood between sister nations. Rather, they mark a dangerous precedent in the relations between Arab states.”
Al-Rumaihi stressed that Qatar was among the strongest supporters of the Egyptian people since the outbreak of the 25 January Revolution, as was in keeping with the duty incumbent upon brother Arab peoples. He added that his country would remain committed to the values and bonds of brotherhood with the Egyptian people.
The Qatar and Turkish reactions met with an equally strong Egyptian response. Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Counsellor Ahmed Abu Zeid told the press, “It is not surprising to hear such statements from those who spent so much money and effort during the past years towards marshalling their media mouthpieces to attack the Egyptian people and their state and institutions.”
He added, “The lofty Egyptian judiciary cannot be harmed by such unrestrained claims that reveal more about the intentions of those who utter them, as well as their ignorance of the history, integrity and professionalism of the Egyptian judiciary, which dates back many decades. Neither history nor the Egyptian people will forget those who offend them.”
Concluding his remarks, Abu Zeid said, “The relations and fraternal bonds that connect the Egyptian people to their brother Qatari people will remain strong and unshakable. Egypt will remain a loyal sister that cares for the welfare of all Arab peoples, does not interfere in the affairs of other nations and works to protect the security and safety of her nation.”
As for the other major crisis, or Act II, it relates to the ongoing tension between the Muslim Brotherhood youth and the old guard. The youth have, for some time, been demanding internal elections and the removal of leaders they believe have clung on to power too long, and have proved incapable of managing the situation since 30 June 2013, when nationwide protests eventually ousted Morsi. This crisis may be the most difficult, as the internal controversy and rancour it has stirred could cause the organisation to splinter.
Clearly, the crisis-ridden Muslim Brotherhood is reeling under the strains and nearing its demise. But even in the midst of this dark moment, some of them found a little comic relief in the sentences handed down to Morsi. Their social networking sites have been full of witticisms over Morsi’s 85-year-prison term plus a death sentence.
Meanwhile, only the coming days will tell whether the Brotherhood factions will part ways or reconcile and which side will win — the youth or the “old fogeys”.