CAIRO: The year long military trial of 40 members of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) ended Tuesday with sentences ranging from three to ten years for 25 of the accused while 15 were acquitted.
The two most prominent members in the dock, Mohamed Khayrat El Shater (the number three in the group) and Hassan Malek both received sentences of seven years.
Of the 25 sentenced, five received 10-year sentences, two received 7 years (Shater and Malek) five were sentenced to 5 years and the remaining thirteen received three-year sentences according the group’s lawyer Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maqsud.
Those who received the 10 year sentences were the members who were tried in absentia.
Initially the charges leveled against the defendants included terrorism and money laundering but by the time of sentencing the charges had been reduced to funding a banned organization.
Additionally, 34 people were arrested outside the court on the day of the verdict as clashes erupted between police and family members attempting to approach the court in the Heikstep, north-east of Cairo where the verdict was given. Three journalists were also arrested and later released.
Two of Malek’s sons were arrested in the fracas and his daughter, Khadiga, told Daily News Egypt before the verdict was handed down that she was hit by plainclothes policemen as families of the detainees were present outside the court.
“As we were waiting thugs came out of police cars and tried to force us to leave. One of them banged my face repeatedly against the police car, she said. The trial began last April and all the assets of the defendants and their families were seized or frozen as they were referred to the military courts in February 2007.
“It is a harsh sentence and there was no case in the first place, Abdel-Maqsud told Daily News Egypt, “this was a politically-motivated case tried in a court which guarantees no rights to those standing trial.
The MB lawyer stated that they intended to appeal the verdict, as new laws instituted at the end of 2007 allowed for this in military tribunals.
However the strength of verdict and the ranking of those on trial constituted a change in the regime’s policy towards the MB according to Deputy Editor of the Siyasa Dawlia (International Politics) newspaper Khalil Al-Anani.
“This verdict signifies a change in the relationship between the Brotherhood and the regime, he told Daily News Egypt, “this is the first time such a strong sentence is handed out to leading members of the group.
“El-Shater is the second deputy Supreme Guide and at one point he was the most acceptable face of the group for the government, he was the tactical negotiator with the regime so for him to be sentenced means the regime has cut off all avenues with the group, Al-Anani added.
He believed this was part of a “plan B the government put in place after the group’s gains in the 2005 parliamentary elections and consisted of “political castration, organizational atrophy and an economic assault.
“This is the plan as long as there is ambiguity in the transfer of power in Egypt. This is a very critical time, he added.
Even those on the left of the political spectrum questioned the judgement behind the verdict and the grounds on which the prosecution built its case.
Chairman of the Arab Socialist Party Waheed Al Aqsari told Daily News Egypt, “If the state prosecutes those who finance the Muslim Brotherhood because it is banned, then why did it open the door for the Brotherhood to enter parliament [in 2005] keeping in mind that the state-controlled press labeled them as the Muslim Brotherhood at the time, not independents [as they ran]?
“The state has not respected the law and should bear the responsibility for this, he added.
As for how the group might respond to the sentencing Al-Anani believed that it would probably not retaliate but that a restructuring was needed to fill the void left by El-Shater and the others.
“Historically the group maintains patience in such events, so as to not give the regime the chance to draw it out in an open struggle which would lead to the massacre of the Brotherhood, he said.
“However, the Brotherhood needs to seek new strategies which may include dialogue through back channels with the regime to calm things down.
It also needs to internally reorganize and hold elections to fill the void left by key members of the group. This must be done quickly, Al-Anani concluded.