Security concerns spread over Egypt's Morsi trial

Dina Ezzat , Sunday 3 Nov 2013

Widespread fears Morsi's trial might evoke a new wave of instability amid heightened security

A protester forms the Muslim Brotherhood's Rabaa symbol with his fingers during clashes with riot police at Al-Azhar University in Cairo October 20, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

The tension is apparent over the trial of former president Mohamed Morsi's trial Monday, amid increased security measures.  

“They sent me a text message telling me not to send the children to school tomorrow [Monday, 4 November]; I wasn't going to anyway. I wasn't waiting for instruction from the school's administration. I'm taking the day off tomorrow myself and nobody is going out. God knows how the day will go,” said Sayed Hussein, a civil servant.

Living in Nasr City – the site of many Muslim Brotherhood protests in support of ousted president Mohamed Morsi before and after his ouster - Hussein admits that he has become "obsessed" with following the Brotherhood's demonstrations.

“Whatever plans I make, I am usually careful to avoid Fridays, the traditional day of protest. The day of Morsi's trial is like a million Fridays combined,” he said.

These concerns are not limited to Hussein, who said his car was smashed two weeks ago during a fight between Morsi supporters and opponents in Nasr City. According to the Interior Ministry and other government officials, escalating violence is a real concern.

“We know they [the Brotherhood] want to make a big fuss on the day. I am not saying they want to kidnap him, but they certainly want the world to think that Morsi is being tried against the will of the public. Therefore, they will stage the largest demonstrations since he was removed from power,” said a security official.

Authorities have said that extensive measures have been taken to ensure the security of the venue where Morsi will be tried, after arriving by plane from his undisclosed place of detention. All key government bodies, including possible targets for Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations, have also been secured.

Warnings have been broadcast on state radio and television stations, reiterating the intention of the police to use live ammunition against any ‘non-peaceful’ demonstrators.

“We are well aware of plans for demonstrations and are taking all necessary measures. I am not undermining the challenge, but I feel that with the support of the public – which has been remarkable, and that of the media - which is appreciated, we will be able to deter any attempts by the Muslim Brotherhood to ‘hijack’ the day,” the security source added.

The handling of security during the trial is one of many factors that the international community will be closely monitoring tomorrow, both ahead of and during the trial, according to foreign diplomats in Cairo.

“We have shared our concerns with government officials, stating that we fear serious bloodshed as a result of a possible heavy-handed security approach, which would force us to react” said a Cairo-based European diplomat, adding that he has been reassured this will not be the case.

"Since Morsi's removal, and we don’t want to get into the debate of whether he was removed via a 'coup' or not, because this is not the issue now, security measures, especially against Islamists, have given us reason for serious concern over the state of freedoms in Egypt, which we thought had made irreversible advances since the 25 January Revolution,” the diplomat continued.

The independence of the jury is another issue that the world will be watching, according to the same Cairo-based foreign sources.

Everyone, locally and internationally is wondering about the fate of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which Morsi hails.

Ali Khafaguie, a mid-level Brotherhood figure, says the trial will not undermine the determination or the will of the oldest Islamist group.

“As far as we are concerned, this trial is as illegitimate as the forced removal of Morsi through a direct coup d'état. This is not going to force us into political retreat. It is not a trial of a Muslim Brotherhood figure, but rather a test of the public will that elected this Brotherhood leader as president,” Khafaguie said.

According to Hassan Abu-Taleb, a senior member of Al-Ahram's Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, some Brotherhood members might agree with Khafaguie, but, "whether they like it or not, it is no small defeat for Brotherhood leaders, especially those of the Guidance Bureau, to see their first elected president appear in a court of law a little over a year after his election, to face legal charges including those related to the killing of innocent Egyptians, spying on the country and undermining its national security.”

“However, the question of whether or not this is a crystal clear defeat of an old, well-established and well-funded Islamist group, will either lead to a different reading of events or an extended phase of angry demonstrations, in a bid by the Brotherhood to dilapidate the energy of the state,” Abu-Taleb continued.

He added that Morsi's trial will “firmly discredit the Brotherhood movement, which has long been portrayed in collective public perception as a valid and trusted political alternative. The trial is the epitome of failure from this perspective, because it is about the loss of the faith that the people had when they elected Morsi to office, before turning against him less than a year later and calling for his removal.”

Khafaguie does not agree with Abu-Taleb and many other commentators that Morsi's trial represents the triumph of the state over the will of the Brotherhood.

“It is not about the state versus the group; it is rather about a coup versus legitimacy. This is the scene that the world will see tomorrow; an elected president, who was voted into office despite endless attempts to remove him from the political race, and who was ousted by the military, who has been holding him hostage in an undisclosed location and is finally sending him to a trial. That this will not be broadcast on air clearly compromises the need for transparency,” Khafaguie maintained.

“This is a power play that does not mean much to us – to the people; what the people want is stability, security and a good economy. The truth is that these things were missing before, during and after the rule of Morsi. We don’t know when or how they will be regained and we don’t know what the trial will do from this perspective,” Nasr City Civil Servant Hussein concluded.

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