Egypt sets Feb. 16 as start date for a Morsi trial

MAGGIE MICHAEL
Associated Press
FILE - In this file photo taken Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, supporters of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi hold his poster as they raise their hands with four fingers, which has become a symbol for Morsi supporters, during a protest in Cairo, Egypt. While last week's constitutional referendum approved the draft charter, the low turnout - less than 39 percent - has put on display the country's enduring divisions six months after the ouster of Morsi and nearly three years after autocrat Hosni Mubarak was overthrown. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian court on Tuesday set Feb. 16 as the start date for one of the multiple trials of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, this one on charges of conspiring with foreign groups.

Egypt's prosecutor general has charged Morsi and other top Muslim Brotherhood leaders with conspiring with militant groups such as the Palestinian Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah, as well as with Iran, to destabilize Egypt. Morsi is also accused of orchestrating an insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula to avenge his ouster.

Morsi's supporters have called the conspiracy accusations implausible. Morsi was ousted in a military coup last July after millions took to the streets demanding his removal, nearly a year after he became Egypt's first freely elected president.

Morsi is facing a total of four trials and was most recently referred to court over insulting the judiciary. Charges in the other three trials, including inciting the killing of his opponents and organizing jailbreaks, carry the death penalty.

Of the four, only the one for incitement has started and is to resume next month.

Medhat Idris of the Cairo Appeals Court told The Associated Press that the venue for the trial for conspiring with foreign groups has not yet been determined.

In the proceedings related to the incitement of killing, Morsi was brought by helicopter from a heavily fortified prison in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria to the Cairo Police Academy. However, the second session was adjourned until next month after security officials said heavy fog grounded the helicopter meant to bring Mohammed Morsi to court.

The trials come as the military-backed interim government pushes a fast track transition plan aimed at holding presidential and parliamentarian elections by end of this year. Last week, an overwhelming majority of participating vcoters endorsed a draft constitution, the first step in the transition plan, in a referendum.

Egypt's Interim President Adly Mansour is expected to announce soon whether presidential elections will be held before parliamentary ones. Meanwhile, Egyptians are waiting to see whether the army chief who ousted Morsi, Gen. Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, decides to run.

Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood group boycotted the constitutional referendum and called for escalating street demonstrations in the run up to Jan. 25, which marks the third anniversary of the 2011 uprising that witnessed the downfall of longtime president Hosni Mubarak.

However, the group has been deeply weakened by months of a heavy security crackdown that killed hundreds and jailed top leaders and members. The government has recently labeled it a terrorist organization, allowing new legal measures to be taken against members and supporters.

On Monday, a Cairo criminal court sentenced a top ultraconservative Islamist and former presidential hopeful Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail to one year in prison for comments perceived as insulting to judiciary, which he was facing trial over forgery.

Abu-Ismail was a top ally to Morsi, and his original charges were related to the alleged forging of his mother's nationality during his presidential bid in 2012.

Abu-Ismail told judges on Monday: "The court is void ... This is not a real judiciary in the first place." His trial was held in a venue adjacent to Tora prison where he along with a large number of members from Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood are held.