A member of the Muslim Brotherhood holds a Mursi mask during protests in Cairo on Friday. (Reuters)
Cairo, July 26: Egyptian state media reported today that former President Mohamed Mursi had been formally charged with espionage and ordered detained for 15 days, a move that seemed certain to further anger his supporters, as both pro- and anti-Mursi crowds turned out in vast demonstrations across Egypt.
Mursi’s supporters and opponents began flooding into the streets in mass duelling protests early today, as the military set up checkpoints throughout the city. In Tahrir Square here in Cairo, tens of thousands of flag-waving people cheered the military takeover, as helicopters flew low over the crowd and families posed for photographs with soldiers next to their armored vehicles.
Many in the crowd held up posters of Egypt’s defence minister, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, who ousted Mursi on July 3 and had called on Wednesday for demonstrations that he said would give him a “mandate” to fight terrorism.
At the same time, Mursi’s Islamist supporters marched along dozens of planned routes. At least one person was killed in the city of Alexandria, state media reported, and there were widespread fears of more confrontations and violence after a week of scattered clashes that left more than a dozen people dead.
Egypt’s military rulers have come under intensifying international pressure to release Mursi, who has been held incommunicado by the military since he was removed from power.
Instead, an investigating judge ordered him imprisoned for 15 days on formal charges, according to a report this morning on the website of the flagship state newspaper, Al Ahram. The charges relate to Mursi’s escape in 2011 from the Wadi Natroun prison, where he was held for two days by the government of President Hosni Mubarak during the uprising against Mubarak’s rule.
The judge, Hassan Samir, said Mursi had conspired with Hamas — the Palestinian militant group that governs the Gaza Strip and is allied with Mursi’s movement, the Muslim Brotherhood — to escape from the prison. The report said Mursi and Hamas carried out “aggressive acts in the country”, attacked police establishments and killed and kidnapped police officers and soldiers.
After his escape, Mursi said in a television interview that he was among 30 members of the Muslim Brotherhood who were broken out of the prison by men they did not know.
During Mursi’s year as President, his opponents had repeatedly accused him of conspiring with Hamas, an offshoot of the Brotherhood. The Wadi Natroun case never gained any traction until Mursi was toppled and prosecutors began an investigation.
In a statement, Salah al-Bardawil, a spokesman for Hamas, denounced the charges and challenged Egyptian prosecutors to present evidence that the group had any involvement with the prison break.