CAIRO — A former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood was charged of insulting the judiciary on Saturday, Egyptian officials said, the latest move by prosecutors to bring to trial leading members of the former president's group.
Speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief journalists, they said 85-year-old Mahdi Akef was referred to a criminal court in Cairo but no date had been set for his trial.
Akef's arrest came as a part of the interim government's wider crackdown on Islamist leaders and Brotherhood supporters following the July 3 ouster of President Mohammed Morsi. Akef, along with other top leaders of the Brotherhood, is also accused of inciting violence in a court case that will resume later this month.
Around 2,000 members of the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups are also being held in prison pending investigation on a variety of accusations, mostly involving inciting violence.
Meanwhile, interim authorities moved ahead with their plans for their post-Morsi political transition plan, calling on Egyptian voters living abroad to start registering in preparation for an expected referendum on constitutional amendments, parliamentary and presidential elections.
Egypt's state news agency MENA said Egyptians living abroad, estimated at around eight million, can begin registration starting Saturday. It was unclear how many of the eight millions are voters.
The timetable announced by the interim president, appointed as part of the military-backed transition plan, did not specify dates for the elections, but it is estimated that all the votes will be done by spring of 2014.
A 50-member appointed committee of mostly liberals is currently amending the Islamist-drafted constitution which was passed in a much disputed referendum last year, and was suspended after Morsi's ouster.
The committee amending the constitution said it expects to end its work by next month and put the charter to a public referendum, marking the first step of the roadmap laid out by military-backed interim authorities.
Under the fast track timetable, parliamentary elections would be held within two months after the referendum. Once the new parliament convenes, it would have a week to set a date for the presidential elections.
The new trial referral for the Brotherhood's Akef stems from statements he made in April, when he called the judiciary "sick" and "corrupt" during the height of a power struggle between Morsi and the courts.
At the time, Akef defended an Islamist-backed draft law that could have forced out 3,500 of Egypt's approximately 13,000 judges and prosecution officials by lowering the retirement age to 60 from 70. He was one of the first Brotherhood leaders to state that the new law could force out such a large number, about a third of the sitting judges and prosecutors, in what many saw as a deliberate threat leveled by the group.
Islamist backers accused the judiciary of being dominated by former regime loyalists, while liberals saw the draft law as an attempt by Islamists to pack it with their allies in place of the retiring judges.
Akef later tried to distance himself from the remarks, saying the recorded media statements were edited. He later said he respected the judiciary.
Morsi, detained in an unknown location since his ouster, is himself being investigated and could face trial on accusations of insulting judges. In a public speech during his term in office, Morsi accused a few judges by name of taking part in election rigging under the previous regime.
The judiciary had dealt the Islamist camp several setbacks before Morsi's ouster. Courts dissolved the Islamist-majority lower house of parliament last year, saying the law governing its election was invalid. This year, a court forced a delay in elections for a new parliament when it ruled that a new election law had to be reviewed by the Supreme Constitutional Court.
On the other hand, Morsi infuriated many in the judiciary in November by issuing decrees that made his decisions immune from judicial challenge for a time, protected a constitutional assembly from being dissolved by the courts and unilaterally installed a new prosecutor, seen as a loyalist.