Egyptian judges are usually accused of having bias once a verdict is handed down in a politically-charged trial. The decision to entrust the direction of the legal system to official independent prosecutors following the 2011 Revolution and the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in July placed a heavy burden on the courts.
Uncertainty about the judiciary’s independence was often questioned by the country’s different political parties.
The following is a list of the most influential trials and verdicts of 2013:
1. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood
In the most significant trial of the year ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi is facing several charges including kidnapping four police officers and holding them in the Gaza Strip, using excessive force against the Egyptian government, breaking into prisons, illegally releasing prisoners, murder and the attempted murder of police officers, committing violent acts that affected the unity and independence of Egypt, setting fire to governmental buildings and espionage . The first ever elected president after the 2011 uprising was ousted only one year after his rule prompting an international and domestic controversy. He is currently standing trial for the events on 5 December 2012 presidential palace clashes, which left five dead and 693 injured. Morsi was tried for this case on 4 November, with the next session scheduled to be on 8 January 2014. Morsi’s second referral was with charges of espionage .
Morsi was held incommunicado for around four months before being referred to criminal court along with 129 other members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
2. Mubarak trial
Former President Hosni Mubarak, who’s 30 year rule ended with the 25 January Revolution in 2011, was put on three separate trials for the killing of demonstrators , corruption and the misuse of national funds.
In June 2012, Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in the killing of protesters. His legal team and the prosecution appealed the verdict and a retrial has been ordered. Mubarak was released from jail in accordance with the Egyptian penal code which stipulates that any detained individual who spends more than 2 years in preventive detention shall be automatically released.
Mubarak’s two sons, Alaa and Gamal, as well as his former Interior Minister Habib Al-Adly, are also currently on trial. Fugitive businessman Hussein Salem is also among the defendants.
3. Abu Zaabal police officers trial
On 21 October, the prosecutor’s office ordered three police officers and a vice-warden of the Heliopolis police station held for fours days. They were charged with having been involved in the death of thirty seven prisoners on 17 August.
The prisoners were reportedly killed after being arrested during a crackdown of a pro-Morsi sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adaweya. After being detained for three days, they were transported to Abu Zaabal Prison. According to reports, the prisoners complained of inadequate ventilation and began creating a disturbance inside the vehicle. This prompted the police officers to fire a teargas canister inside the vehicle, killing them. Of the 45 prisoners, only eight survived, one of whom is still in critical condition.
Civil claimants argued that the trial was unfair and the judge was biased towards the police.
4. Activists’ support leads to convictions
Civil activists contributed to the downfall of the Morsi regime and providing sufficient opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood. The groups, however, came into conflict with the authorities after Interim President Adly Mansour issued a law aimed at curbing future protests. Demonstrations were held, but later dispersed and leading activists detained.
Well-known activist Ahmed Douma, 6 April Youth movement founder Ahmed Maher and the movement’s political bureau member Mohamed Adel were each handed a three year sentence of hard labour and obliged to pay EGP 50,000 fine. The defendants will be placed under surveillance for three years following their release. Several protesters are still awaiting trial, including that of opposition activist Alaa Abdel Fatah.
Verdicts are generally seen to set legal precedents, but in 2013 the court s also set new political precedents. Below is a list of verdicts that garnered media attention and evoked reactions from different sectors of society.
1. The Alexandria 21
On 27 November, 21 girls were sentenced after being arrested in late October for protesting against the 3 July military-backed ouster of former President Morsi. Of the defendants, 14 girls were sentenced to 11 years and one month in jail on charges of acts of violence, encroachment on public and private property, and weapons possession of melee weapons. The remaining seven were minors and were sentenced to juvenile detention until they are eligible to serve the remainder of their sentence in an adult penitentiary. The sentences were viewed as excessive as six of the 11 year sentences were attributed to damages caused to a building. Eyewitness testimony and an investigative report from Eastern Alexandria’s Prosecution said, “After the prosecution reviewed the scene,significant damage was found on the [the Businessmen Building’s] door, including scratches and damage to the door’s hinges .”
The harshness of the sentence led to rumours that the 11 year sentence was cumulative for the 21 girls.
2. Port Said Massacre death sentences
Events that occurred in Port Said had a major impact on Egypt in 2013. The case relates to an incident – referred to as the “Port Said Massacre” – at the city’s football stadium where 74 supporters of Al-Ahly SC were killed at the end of a match against Al-Masry SC. The opposing club’s fans stormed the pitch and attacked players and other fans. The victims were stabbed, beaten, crushed by the crowd and thrown off the upper tier of the stadium.
A total of 73 defendants were tried and sentenced on two separate occasions. The first sentence was delivered in January 2013, when 21 people were sentenced to death. The second verdict came in March 2013, with 21 defendants receiving the death penalty, five were given life sentences, ten were handed 15 year sentences, two received 5 years and one received a year.
3. Mubarak’s sons acquitted
A verdict on 19 December acquitted former President Mubarak’s sons Gamal and Alaa, as well as former prime minister and presidential candidate Ahmad Shafiq.
Shafiq and Mubarak’s sons, along with other defendants, were tried for selling 40,000 square metres of land below market prices to former regime officials through the Pilots Land Association. The land was reportedly sold for 75 piasters per square metre in contrast with the market price of EGP 8 at the time.
4. Azhar students receive 17 years
On 14 November, a court sentenced 12 student protesters to 17 years in prison for taking part in a violent student-led protest and attacking Islamic Al-Azhar’s headquarters, reported MENA.
The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression said the verdict was illegal because according to Egyptian law, in case of more than one accusation, of which the most severe in this case is ‘unlawful assembly’, the court can only hand down a maximum sentence of three years.
The case again raised questions regarding the judiciary’s prejudice towards the regime.
5. Muslim Brotherhood barred, classified as terrorists
One of the year’s most publicised verdicts involved the banning of the Muslim Brotherhood organisation and its NGOs.
On 21 March, the Muslim Brotherhood announced their legal status as an NGO. However, on 23 September, Abdeen’s circuit court for urgent affairs ruled to disband the Muslim Brotherhood and ordered the confiscation of its capital after Tagamoa Party member Mahmoud Abdallah filed a complaint.
The verdict led to another significant announcement by the government, which classified the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation.