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Mursi’s trial, political or criminal?

Raed Omari

Published: Updated:

Supporters and even opponents of Egypt’s ousted leader Mohammad Mursi were angry and dismayed, or at least not fully at ease, with the scene of the elected president in the courtroom’s barred cage this week.

The fact that Mursi was an elected president who came to power after the January 25 Revolution, which was said to put an end to the era of tyranny during the deposed President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule, was probably the reason behind the “silent” sympathy of his opponents and their “unexpressed” dismay over his trail, needless to mention of course the reasons behind his die-hard supporters’ anger. I mean the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).

Detainment of the former Egyptian Islamist president at a secret location by authorities since he was ousted by the army on 3 July has also had an impact on his trail, turning it thrilling and dramatic. If Mursi’s first appearance after four months of absence was in itself spectacular and breathtaking, seeing him standing behind the bars at the court was dramatic to say the least.

Egyptian authorities’ extensive measures taken before the trail, deploying thousands of security personnel, closing off all entrances to the iconic Tahrir Square and stationing hundreds of armored vehicles around the Cairo Police Academy have also had a great deal of dramatic impact on the trail.

The fact that Mursi, who was elected president after the January 25 Revolution that unseated Mubarak, was himself ousted by the June 30 Revolution, also contributed to the feelings of bewilderment and perplexity prevailing over his trial.

Overthrowing two presidents and trying them before courts following two popular uprisings in less than two years is just something that is difficult to comprehend.

Mursi’s behavior

Furthermore, Mursi’s behavior inside the courtroom and his conversation with the judges also significantly counted towards adding a thrilling element to his trail. He was seen in the cage holding his hands in the air, exchanging cheers with his supporters and making the Rabaa symbol with his hand and reportedly told the judges that he was “the legitimate president.”

What is worth noting is that no anti-Muslim Brotherhood sentiments or feelings of shadenfreude have been expressed by any of Mursi’s opponents who remained silent though so much affected by the accompanying thrilling elements of the trial, probably in deep thought over what happened and what will happen to and in Egypt.

However, Mursi’s, and the Islamist movement’s, supporters are dwelling on the political dimension of the trial, questioning the legitimacy of the case and casting doubt on the legality of the court proceedings.

As opposed to criminal proceedings, carried out with witness testimonies and supported by solid evidence, coloring a trail with political implications is like questioning its legality and in a pejorative sense criticizing its proceedings as unfair or unjust.

Criminal or political?

Though even among established legal experts, there is much disagreement on the definition of a political trial or whether it is correct to describe courts’ proceedings with political implications, there is actually “political trial” but it does, and should, take place outside regular courts where cases are looked into on criminal grounds.

Although he cited in his book, The Political Trial: Courtroom as Stage, History as Critic, a definition of a “political trial” as “an examination before a court concerning the conduct of governmental affairs or somehow relating to government,” Roland P. Sokol, a veteran American lawyer and prolific writer, was himself dissatisfied with the definition.

Indirectly admitting the troubling aspects related to the examination of political charges in regular courts, Malcolm Burnstein defines “political trails” in his article Trying a Political Case, as “characterized by the fact that public opinion and public attitudes on one or more social questions will inevitably have an effect on the decision.”
For Steven E. Barkan, a veteran U.S. law scholar, “political trials can include trials for civil disobedience and other forms of protest against government policy. The government may use prosecution to frighten potential supporters and sympathizers of a movement.”

Based on those arguments, it is not difficult to conclude how troubling the issue of a “political trail” is, especially if it is to be discussed purely from a legal perspective aside from the rhetoric of conspiracy and sentiments of dismay that usually come along during trails of politicians and ex-presidents.

Egypt’s long-established judicial system is fully aware of the disconcerting aspects of political charges to be looked into by regular courts and, probably, that is why the charges imposed on Mursi are all criminal, related to the killings and torture of protestors.

However, political trials do exist but usually take place outside regular courts, in parliaments, in the street or at special tribunals convened in countries still under marshal laws.

A parliament moving ahead with a motion of no confidence in the government, or a minister, is an example of political trials where deputies play the role of the prosecutor-general. Another example is when a president or a political party is removed from power by a public uprising as in the case of ousting Mursi, Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

In some countries, where military courts or special tribunals look into cases related to national security, terrorism or treason, defendants are referred to as “political prisoners” or with dismay and abhorrence as “prisoners of opinion” in democratic systems that have no such courts.

Then, when removed from power, Mursi can be said to be politically tried with the same thing applied to the MB, which was outlawed later by the Egyptian judiciary.

But there is an issue that has to be raised now at the time of Mursi’s trail and the accompanying sentiments of hate against Egypt’s military.

Mursi, whose supporters have chanted anti-Egypt’s military slogans outside the court, himself alluded to a military prosecution against his opponents during his penultimate speech, citing his capacity as head of the army.

Aside from the state of polarization prevailing Egypt and rhetoric of conspiracy that resulted from the dispute over whether it was a military coup or a pressing popular uprising that brought the downfall of Mursi’s rule, and the accompanying legitimacy vs. illegitimacy rhetoric, now more in the criminal vs. political dispute, Mursi’s trial has marked the end of a new chapter in Egypt’s history and the beginning of a newer one.

Mursi’s trial has marked the end of a new chapter in Egypt’s history and the beginning of a newer one

Raed Omari

Now myself relived from the dramatic impact of the trial, Mursi himself was a victim of the totalitarian MB in as much as the Islamist movement was a victim of its own mistakes and of the “blindly obedient” president.

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Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via raed_omari1977@yahoo.com, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.