By Roger Annis, June 22, 2016
On June 18, an Egyptian court delivered harsh sentences to President Mohamed Morsi and six co-defendants in an ‘espionage’ trial where the accused faced charges of sharing information with a foreign power, the Gulf State monarchy of Qatar.
Enclosed is an Agence France presse news report on the sentencings. Morsi was given a life sentence for “leading an unlawful organization” and “stealing state documents” related to national security during the period in which he was the elected president of the country. The “unlawful organization” in question is the Muslim Brotherhood political movement, which won the legislative and the presidential elections in Egypt in 2012.
President Morsi and the Egytian Parliament were overthrown in a military coup on July 3, 2013. Since then, he has been put on trial at least three times. In separate trials in 2015, he was sentenced to life in prison and to death.
In all of his trials, Morsi has spoken defiantly to his accusers and has urged his supporters to continue to peacefully protest against the trampling of democracy by Egypt’s military rulers.
My extensive writings on the 2013 coup in Egypt and its aftermath can be accessed here. The coup was a major blow to social justice struggles in Egypt and throughout the Middle East, including the historic struggle of the Palestinian people for a homeland. The Egypt coup has contributed greatly to the escalation of U.S.-led ‘regime change’ violence and chaos in Syria and elsewhere in the region.
The coup by Egypt’s military received solid backing by the big imperialist countries in Europe and North America. For a time, support to the coup by Canada and Australia was an embarrassment to the governments of those two countries because among the many journalists jailed by the coup regime were Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian-born Canadian Mohammed Fahmy. They were arrested in December 2013 and only released by presidential decrees (in June 2014 and September 2015, respectively) thanks to international campaigning.
There are eerie parallels to the July 2013 military coup in Egypt and the coup in Ukraine eight months later. In both cases, elected presidents were overthrown. Elected legislatures were emasculated.
Large protest movements in the streets of Cairo and Kyiv were giving voice to serious grievances about social and economic inequalities in each country. But the right wing and extreme-right wing in Egypt and Ukraine, along with the ‘deep state’ apparatuses of the two countries, successfully manipulated and hijacked the goals of the street protests. (Regarding Egypt, see: ‘The Revolution That Wasn’t‘, by Hugh Roberts in the London Review of Books, Sept 12, 2013. Regarding Ukraine, see the extensive documentation on the website The New Cold War; Ukraine and beyond.)
Sections of the political left in Egypt and in Ukraine were deeply disoriented by events, downplaying the gravity of the right-wing political offensive and the threat of a coup against the elected governments of each country.
In both case, progressive opinion internationally, including among so-called leftists and Marxists, was deeply disoriented or worse, providing little assistance to the pro-democracy fighters who were facing down a violent and deadly enemy. With respect to Egypt, see a selection of my commentaries on the stances by some on the international left:
Egypt’s Morsi sentenced to life in espionage trial
On June 18, an Egyptian court sentenced ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi to life in prison in an espionage trial in which six of his co-defendants were handed death penalties.
Morsi has been sentenced to death in a separate trial. He was Egypt’s first democratically elected president but the army overthrew him in 2013 and cracked down on his supporters.
He was given life in prison Saturday for leading an unlawful organisation and 15 years for having “stolen secret documents concerning state security,” his lawyer said. Abdel Moneim Abdel Maksoud told AFP that Morsi was acquitted of having supplied classified documents to Qatar, one of his main backers.
The six co-defendants sentenced to death for helping to pass secret documents to Qatar include three journalists tried in absentia. Two are from Qatar-based TV channel Al-Jazeera.
The media network denounced the verdict as an attack of free press. Al-Jazeera “denounces, condemns, and entirely rejects the verdict,” a statement said. The verdict is “unjust and politicised” and “part of the ruthless campaign against freedom of speech and expression, in order to muzzle the voice of free press.”
Qatar’s government also rejected the verdict, saying it was “unfounded, goes against truth and contains misleading claims” that are contrary to Doha’s policies. “The charge of espionage for Qatar against a former president and media men is surprising and unacceptable,” added Ahmed Al Rumaihi, director of information at the foreign ministry.
Morsi came to power  after the 2011 revolution that toppled longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak. But after just over one year in office, he was overthrown and detained by then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is now Egypt’s president.
Courts have since sentenced hundreds of Islamists to death, including other Muslim Brotherhood leaders, though many have appealed and been granted new trials.
Hundreds of Morsi supporters were killed during protests following his ouster. Thousands of others were detained in a crackdown that was later expanded to include leftist and liberal dissidents. The Muslim Brotherhood has been blacklisted as a terrorist group.
Jihadists who have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State group intensified their attacks following Morsi’s overthrow, killing hundreds of Egyptian policemen and soldiers, mainly in the north of the Sinai Peninsula. The jihadists say the attacks are in retaliation for the crackdown on Brotherhood supporters.
Two of the journalists sentenced to death, Ibrahim Mohamed Hilal and Jordanian citizen Alaa Omar Mohamed Sablan, worked for Al-Jazeera. The third has been named as Asmaa Mohamed al-Khatib, a female reporter with pro-Muslim Brotherhood news outlet Rassd.
The three others handed the death penalty, who were present during the trial, are documentary producer Ahmed Ali Abdo, EgyptAir cabin crew member Mohamed Adel Kilani, and university teaching assistant Ahmed Ismail Thabet, said the prosecution.
The death sentences were sent to the mufti — Egypt’s official interpreter of Islamic law — as his opinion is legally required on death sentences although it is not binding.
Rights group Amnesty International criticised the trial outcome as “appalling” and called for the death sentences to be overturned and for the “ludicrous charges” against the journalists to be dropped.
“Egypt’s broken and utterly corrupted justice system is now little more than a handy tool for the authorities’ repression of any vestiges of opposition or criticism,” said Magdalena Mughrabi-Talhami, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
The defendants can appeal the rulings before the court of cassation, and those tried in absentia can seek a retrial if they turn themselves in.
Egypt has cracked down on Al-Jazeera and imprisoned three of its journalists in Cairo, including Australian Peter Greste and Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, before releasing them by presidential decree.
Mostefa Souag, the acting director general of Al-Jazeera Media Network, said all sentences issued against the channel’s journalists since Morsi’s ouster were “legally baseless”.
Morsi has already received sentences in several other separate trials. In 2015, a court sentenced him to death in connection with prison breaks and attacks on police stations during the 2011 uprising. He is appealing that verdict.
He has also been sentenced to life in prison for “espionage” on behalf of Iran and other countries, as well as militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
Another court sentenced him to 20 years in prison for clashes that erupted outside his presidential palace in December 2012 between his supporters and opponents, killing up to 10 people. The clashes broke out after Morsi issued a decree placing his decisions above judicial review.
Millions took to the streets demanding his resignation before the military intervened to remove him on July 3, 2013. President Mohamed Morsi was elected as president of Egypt in a two-round election in May then June of 2012.  The AFP figure of “hundreds” killed following the July 2013 coup in Egypt is grossly understated. On one infamous date alone, August 14, 2013, several thousand people are estimated to have died when Egypt’s police and army attacked peaceful anti-coup protesters in the Nahda and Rabaa Al-Adawiyya squares in the city of Cairo.  There has been a long-standing struggle by the Bedouin people of the Sinai Peninsula to end Egypt’s harsh rule over the region. The AFP news report above is retroactively writing history when it ascribes the Bedouin struggle to ‘jihadists’ and ‘ISIS’.