November 15, 2013

Morsi Trial Subverts Legitimacy

    Friday, November 15, 2013   No comments

by Jacob Havel
As the trial for deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi continues, his supporters and Egyptian military forces are both on high alert. Morsi has been charged with inciting violence and murder during large protests outside the presidential palace last December. Brotherhood leaders have called for and received massive protests over the trial, which pro Morsi activists have deemed illegitimate. The government has responded by mustering 20,000 armed security personnel as well as blocking off Tahrir Square. Morsi himself has rejected to observe the authority of the court on the grounds that the coup itself constituted illegal actions. The trial will, in some ways, represent the culmination of a recent anti-Muslim Brotherhood crackdown which as elevated bloodshed on both sides of the conflict.

The trial so far has stuttered internally. While Morsi was allowed to appear in court on November 4th, issues about security and his open displays of noncompliance (wearing a grey suit, using the Rabba sign) have raised concerns about his continued appearance. Security forces have already enacted policy in the trial of Mohammad Badie, denying him and several other defendants access to the court room over fears that their presence would insight violence. This move prompted three judges presiding over the case to resign citing “reasons of conscience.” Many outside observers have seen fit to call the trials “political.”
There is little doubt that Morsi is at least partially responsible for violence outside the presidential palace in December. However, the issue at hand has been framed under questions of legitimacy. Morsi, despite his dubious actions as president and the mass consolidation of power he attempted, was democratically elected. If the interim government wants to be seen as dedicated to peace, they must acknowledge this fact, make clear legal arguments against Morsi and discontinue the indiscriminate targeting of Brotherhood leadership and infrastructure.
Furthermore, the charges brought against Morsi, warranted or not, represent a form of hypocrisy in the midst of the public ‘crackdown’ against Muslim Brotherhood supporters. The interim government must focus on condemning any violence and not perpetrating it on protesters. This action would not only paint the Brotherhood as misguided and militant, but could force those who are unsure of their allegiance to choose the side of non-violence. Ironically, it is Morsi’s own willingness to endure the use of violent measures that lead to the military take over. If they do not learn from Morsi’s errors, it is quite possible that a full scale armed rebellion could take place in Egypt.
As for the trial, the government has to reverse several errors if it seeks to continue the trial. First, they must allow media coverage inside the courtroom. The only reason to fear increased violence over a public trial is if it is not a fair trial. Transparency is the government’s best friend as far as gaining international support and appearing legitimate within Egypt. Second, Morsi, as well as other Muslim Brotherhood defendants must be continually allowed to attend their own trials. While allowing Morsi to initially appear is the just course of action, the fact remains that the trials will not be accepted by Morsi or his supporters. This presents an alternative, less savory option for the current government. That would be to throw out the trials all together and release the Brotherhood leaders under the condition that they participate in new democratic elections. It is difficult to predict whether or not Morsi would reject such an invitation and continue his claim to the point of full scale civil war. However, it would demonstrate that the military leadership is actively attempting to fulfill its role as an interim government and not as usurpers. If Morsi declines then he does so at the expense of peace.

In the long run this could erode his support. Still, the Muslim Brotherhood put Morsi in power in the first place and represents a large percentage of the population. At the end of the day, crackdowns and the criminalization of their leadership is not going to dissolve their influence. The continuing mass protests and the ineffectiveness of the violent responses to them support this notion.
The military government must seek justice and transparency while pressing for new elections. Although it is difficult to imagine that the Brotherhood could be brought back into some sort of democratic process, marginalizing them with violence as well as holding unjust trials for democratically elected officials will only feed the flames of chaos in Egypt.


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