CAIRO, (Reuters) – Egypt’s army-backed authorities referred deposed President Mohamed Mursi to trial yesterday on charges of inciting murder and violence, in an escalation of the crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood.
The new government also named a constituent assembly almost devoid of Islamists and gave it 60 days to review amendments that would erase Islamic articles brought in last year by the Brotherhood and more hardline Islamic parties.
Nearly two months after the army deposed Mursi, the moves underscored Egypt’s dramatic power shift as its new rulers tighten their grip and crack down on the Islamists who rose to power through the ballot box after Hosni Mubarak’s downfall.
A state prosecutor charged Mursi and 14 other Brotherhood members with “committing acts of violence, and inciting killing and thuggery”, the state news agency reported.
The charges relate to violence in which around a dozen people were killed outside the presidential palace last December, after Mursi had ignited protesters’ rage with a decree that expanded his powers.
The episode was one of the most violent of his presidency. Tens of thousands gathered outside the presidency to demonstrate against Mursi’s decree and a divisive, Islamist-tinged constitution that he planned to put to a referendum.
The Brotherhood’s leaders called on members to rally to his defence. The state news agency said they were now accused of mobilising their followers to forcibly disperse the protesters after the security forces rejected Mursi’s orders to do so.
The charges against Mursi include inciting his followers and assistants to commit crimes of premeditated murder and use violence and thuggery.
Mursi is also being investigated over his escape from jail during the 2011 uprising against Mubarak. He is suspected of murder and conspiring with the Palestinian group Hamas during his escape, though no formal charges have been brought.
Both the European Union and the United States, source of $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Cairo, had called for Mursi’s release after he was detained following his overthrow on July 3.
He was toppled just a year into his term following mass protests fuelled by anger at economic mismanagement and Brotherhood attempts to entrench its power.
His downfall has led to some of the worst violence in Egypt’s modern history, in the form of protests by his supporters, a bloody police crackdown on those supporters, and militant attacks on the police and churches.
At least 900 people, most of them Mursi supporters, were killed last month after the authorities smashed two protest camps set up by Mursi’s supporters in Cairo.
Around 100 of the dead were members of the security forces, killed in what the state has described as a Brotherhood campaign of terrorism. The group denies resorting to violence, saying the government is using the charge to justify the crackdown.
Mursi’s fall has also triggered a spike in violence in the Sinai Peninsula, where hardline militants expanded into a security vacuum left by the 2011 uprising against Mubarak.