Rulings in Islamist cases raise questions in Cairo
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.