On June 16, a panel of three Egyptian judges, headed by Shaaban al-Shami, upheld the death sentence given to ousted former President Mohamed Morsi and many of his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood. The death sentence was affirmed by Egypt’s highest Islamic scholar, the grand mufti, whose affirmation is needed when cases involve capital punishment. Morsi’s attorneys are planning to appeal the sentence.
Morsi was sentenced to death on May 16 after being found guilty of working with foreign terrorists to free Islamists from Egyptian prison in 2011. The jailbreak was a part of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising in Egypt that pushed Hosni Mubarak out of power.
Morsi has also been charged in a number of other cases. In June 2015, he was sentenced to life imprisonment (25 years) for espionage and planning to carry out terrorist acts from 2005-2013. In April 2015, he was sentenced to 20 years of hard labor for ordering protesters to be detained and tortured in 2012. Also in April 2015, he was acquitted of charges that he incited his supporters to murder a journalist and opposition protesters in 2012. He is still awaiting trial in regards to three more charges: leaking state secrets and documents and thereby endangering national security, committing fraud through the Muslim Brotherhood’s economic program, and for insulting judges at an earlier trial.
Morsi rose to prominence when the Muslim Brotherhood formed the Freedom and Justice Party, with Morsi as its chairman, after the ousting of Mubarak in 2011. He was described by former senior Brotherhood member Abdel-Sattar el-Meligi as having “no talents but he is faithful and obedient to the group’s leaders, who see themselves as above the other Muslims. Morsi would play any role the leaders assign him to, but with no creativity and no uniqueness.” He became the Brotherhood’s presidential candidate, initially calling for the implementation of Sharia law in Egypt before changing his rhetoric to appear more centrist.
After being elected, he filled his cabinet with Brotherhood members and supporters. He failed to revive the faltering Egyptian economy, forced the approval of a new Islamic constitution, and effectively implemented martial law. One year after his election, in the summer of 2013, military leader General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi orchestrated a military takeover that led to his removal from power.
The Muslim Brotherhood has been tied to violence since its founding in 1928. It has been linked to bombings and assassination attempts, but in more recent history it has tried to enter mainstream politics by rebranding itself as nonviolent. Since its 2013 fall from power, the Muslim Brotherhood has engaged in a campaign of protests designed to force al-Sisi from power, which has been made significantly more difficult after the Egyptian government designated it as a terrorist organization in 2014. Although the group continually denies its connections to terrorism, it has been connected to repeated incidents of violence both preceding and following Morsi’s removal two years ago.
Efforts to have the US designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization have met resistance. The US must recognize that the Brotherhood is a highly capable group that has relationships with Hamas, al Qaeda, and Hezbollah. If it is treated internationally as a terrorist organization, it can eventually be destroyed. However, until it is recognized as such, it will continue to wreak havoc.