Rulings in Islamist cases raise questions in Cairo

Sunday 27/11/2016
Lawyers representing members of Muslim Brotherhood

CAIRO - Egypt’s Cassation Court has upheld an appeal filed by ousted Islamist president Muhammad Morsi, the deputy supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat al-Shatir, and 22 others against life sentences they were given for spy­ing for the Palestinian movement Hamas. The court ordered a retrial of all defendants.
The ruling came only a week after another court overturned a death sentence against Morsi and a number of Brotherhood members on charges of breaking out of jail during the 2011 popular uprising.
Some observers questioned whether these rulings were part of a government effort to mend fenc­es with the Brotherhood.
Others downplayed the impor­tance of the court decisions, say­ing the overturning of two death sentences against Morsi was due to legal loopholes. They said this does not amount to a change in govern­ment policy towards the Brother­hood.
“The court rulings handed down against Morsi and other Brother­hood leaders were based on inves­tigations by security agencies,” said Mustafa Kamel al-Sayed, a political science professor at Cairo Univer­sity. “Nonetheless, these investiga­tions were insufficient to establish correct evidence.”
Either way, there does seem to be a movement towards some accom­modation between the Egyptian government and the Brotherhood on both sides.
On November 19th, the deputy Muslim Brotherhood leader, Ibra­him Mounir, called for reconcili­ation in Egypt, recognising, ob­servers say, that its international support was narrowing with the US presidential election victory of Donald Trump.
Some Brotherhood-backing states, such as Turkey and Qatar, they say, also realise that maintain­ing this backing will cost them on the international scene.
Adding to the evolving situation, the Egyptian government recently released a group of political prison­ers, with a second group expected to be released in the near future.
“This [changing] atmosphere will open the door for some compro­mises, which reflects the govern­ment’s desire to reach calm with its opponents,” said Tarek Fahmi, a researcher with the National Cen­tre for Middle East Studies, a Cairo think-tank.
The government, Fahmi said, has realised its unending crackdown on the Brotherhood will not be pro­ductive in the long term.
Debates on the latest court rul­ings were not confined to the rela­tion between the government and the Brotherhood. They also includ­ed Hamas, especially after Egypt’s administrative court appealed a previous ruling, labelling the Pal­estinian movement as a terrorist organisation.
Egypt has also made efforts in the last few weeks to improve con­ditions in the Gaza Strip by reopen­ing the Rafah crossing on its bor­der. Egypt also received the leaders of some Palestinian factions to dis­cuss a solution to Palestinian inter­nal problems.