Egyptian court revokes death sentence of Muhammad Morsi
Cairo,Nov17:THE Egyptian state has taken several steps lately that have defied expectations. In October the government instituted a value-added tax, after years of consideration, and passed reforms to the civil service. Then, in November, its central bank floated the Egyptian pound, which had been overvalued for months, and allowed the price of subsidised fuel to rise. An Egyptian court has now added to the trend by showing leniency to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that won Egypt’s first elections following the revolution of 2011.
The Brotherhood-led government, headed by Muhammad Morsi, the president, infuriated many Egyptians, who saw it as abusing its power to impose an Islamist agenda. Thousands of people took to the streets in 2012 and 2013 to protest against the group’s rule. By July 2013 the country had become so divided as to warrant intervention, claimed the army, which tried to impose a resolution and, after that failed, deposed Mr Morsi. Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the general who led the coup, then crushed the group, declaring it a terrorist organisation, killing hundreds of its members and imprisoning many more.
Mr Sisi has since been elected president, while Mr Morsi and his colleagues have languished in jail. They have endured several trials on charges ranging from murder to espionage. In October Mr Morsi exhausted his appeals in a case dealing with the killing of protesters outside the presidential palace in December 2012, for which he had received a 20-year sentence. But on November 15th Egypt’s high court revoked a death sentence imposed last year on Mr Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders, including Muhammad Badie, the group’s spiritual guide, over a prison escape (which involved the death of prison guards) during the revolution of 2011. The court also overturned the life sentences for 21 others in the same case. Retrials have been ordered.
Mr Morsi is also appealing against two other verdicts. In one he is accused of spying for Qatar and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. In the other he is accused of conspiring with foreign groups—such as Hamas, a racial Palestinian faction; Lebanon’s Hizbullah; and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards—to destabilise Egypt. He and other Brotherhood leaders were sentenced to 25 years in prison. In yet another case, still to be heard, Mr Morsi is accused of insulting the judiciary. That trial is scheduled to begin on December 10th.
Though they were sentenced to death, Mr Morsi and his colleagues were never likely to be killed. The Brotherhood’s popularity has plummeted since its spell in power, but it still has a significant following. Under Mr Sisi’s draconian rule, many members have fled the country, but others stayed and some have turned violent. Making a martyr of the group’s leaders would escalate tension at a time when the president is trying to lure foreign investment back to Egypt. And anyway, Mr Morsi is not about to leave prison. The government shows few signs of wanting to reconcile with the Brotherhood.
Egypt’s judicial system has issued other surprising verdicts of late. In June a court overturned Mr Sisi’s decision to transfer sovereignty over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia; a month earlier a different court overturned the jail sentences for 47 people convicted of protesting against the deal. But the system still has a reputation for being influenced by politics. For example, while Mr Morsi has been held accountable for the killing of protesters by his men, no one in the army, then led by Mr Sisi, has been brought to justice for the killing of hundreds of Islamist protesters in Cairo in August 2013.