Nameer Galal, File, Associated Press
CAIRO — Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood faces a wave of trials unlike any it has seen in its history, threatening to put a large number of its senior leaders behind bars for years, even life, as military-backed authorities determined to cripple the group prepare prosecutions on charges including inciting violence and terrorism.
The prosecutions are the next phase in a wide-ranging crackdown on the Brotherhood following the military's July ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, who goes on trial next month.
Morsi's trial, the most high-profile case, is setting a pattern for the others, aiming to show that the Brotherhood leadership directed a campaign of violence. Morsi is charged with inciting murder in connection to a protest during his year in office in which his supporters attacked protesters outside his palace.
Leaders may also be charged with fomenting violence in post-coup protests by Morsi's Islamist supporters demanding his reinstatement. Security forces have cracked down heavily on the protests, claiming some participants were armed, and have killed hundreds of Morsi backers. With each new round of protests and violence, prosecutors consider new charges that include incitement and arming supporters, Brotherhood lawyers say.
So far, at least nine and possibly more than a dozen cases are being put together, according to a prosecution official and Brotherhood lawyers. Each has multiple defendants. Four cases, including Morsi's, have been referred to trial with a total of at least 34 defendants, though a few are being tried in absentia. Ahmed Seif, a human rights lawyer following the investigations, predicted around 200 Brotherhood leaders and senior officials could eventually end up in court.
Brotherhood lawyer Mohammed Gharib denounced the cases as simply "a fig leaf by authorities to cover over their scandal" — to justify the coup and the crackdown, pointing out that no police have been investigated for killing protesters. "They are going after their main political opponent," he told The Associated Press last week.
On Friday, the Brotherhood legal team said Gharib left the country for security reasons and has been replaced by another lawyer. Dozens of Brotherhood lawyers have already been detained. Gharib, himself tried under previous administrations, represented the Brotherhood's jailed top leader Mohammed Badie and other senior members.
Some 2,000 high- and middle-ranking Brotherhood figures have been detained, and Gharib estimated another 6,000 rank-and-file members and supporters are also in custody, being questioned for material to use against the leadership. Among the biggest figures in custody are Morsi, Badie and his deputy Khairat el-Shater, and almost half the group's main leadership council and many of its former parliament members. Rights lawyers say they are struggling to keep track, given the high numbers jailed and prosecutors who are keeping a tight lid on information.
Even rights lawyers who see a strong basis for prosecuting Brotherhood figures over violence and abuses of power expressed concern over the scope of the projected trials. Rights advocates have called for a thorough program of transitional justice to address abuses from the time of autocrat Hosni Mubarak and through the past 2 ½ years of Egypt's turmoil since his ouster — which would also mean trying police and military officials for killing protesters and other rights violations.
Instead, they fear unfair trials with shoddy evidence will be used for the political aim of undermining the Brotherhood.
"They want revenge," Amr Imam, a rights lawyer with the Hesham Mubarak Legal Center, said of the current authorities. "The rights of not only the Brotherhood, but many other Egyptians, will be lost because of arbitrary procedures."
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