CAIRO (AFP) – An Egyptian court on Friday ordered Mohamed Morsi detained on suspicion of murdering policemen and collaborating with Palestinian militants in prison breaks, inflaming tensions before rival rallies by the deposed president’s supporters and opponents.
Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood reacted angrily to the detention order, saying it smacked of tactics used by the regime of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s long-time strongman toppled in a popular uprising in 2011.
Morsi, who has been held secretively by the military since it overthrew him on July 3, will now be interrogated during a renewable 15-day detention period, state news agency MENA said.
Accusations against him include conspiring with Palestinian Hamas militants in attacks that killed policemen and prison breaks during the revolt against Mubarak, in which Morsi escaped along with other political inmates.
Accusations include “premeditated murder of some prisoners, officers and soldiers, and kidnapping officers and soldiers,” MENA said.
He is also suspected of working with the militants to “storm prisons and destroy them..allowing prisoners to escape, including himself.”
Detention orders of the type ordered by the court are usually followed by moving the suspect to a prison. The military has so far kept his whereabouts secret to avoid attracting protests by his supporters.
Gehad El-Haddad, a spokesman for Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood denounced the detention order, saying Mubarak’s regime was “signalling ‘we’re back in full force’.”
A court had on June 23 said Hamas militants facilitated the escape of prisoners during the tumultuous 18-day uprising that forced out Mubarak.
Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood which supports the Gaza militant group’s fight against Israel, too denounced Morsi’s detention.
“Hamas condemns this move since it is based on the premise that the Hamas movement is hostile,” spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP.
“This is a dangerous development, which confirms that the current powers in Egypt are giving up on national causes and even using these issues to deal with other parties — first among them the Palestinian cause.”
The court order further ramped up tensions in Egypt as it braced for a showdown later Friday between Morsi’s supporters and his army-backed opponents, following weeks of bloodshed since his overthrow.
The military reportedly gave Morsi’s backers until the end of Friday to end sit-in protests they began after the army deposed him.
The Muslim Brotherhood and allied Islamist groups have vowed to press their protests until he is reinstated.
Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had earlier in the week set the scene for a potential confrontation by calling for mass Friday rallies to give him a mandate, he said, to counter “terrorism and violence”.
On Thursday, the fugitive leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, sharpened the tone by urging Egyptians to make a “stand for freedom and legitimacy, and against the bloody coup”, although he insisted this should be done peacefully.
Senior Brotherhood leader Essam al-Erian said Morsi loyalists would not be intimidated by the army chief’s call for mass rallies. “Your threat will not prevent millions from continuously protesting,” Erian wrote on Facebook.
Police said they would deploy in numbers to prevent incidents, as Morsi’s camp sought to defuse tension by proposing a three-stage roadmap that would start with confidence-building steps.
Western nations are watching the crisis in Egypt with growing unease, fearing the military’s vow to return the nation to democracy may be little more than a fig leaf to mask a prolonged power grab.
The United States has refused to term the army’s overthrow of Morsi a “coup,” which would trigger an automatic freeze of some $1.5 billion in aid.
But it did finally send the interim leaders a veiled warning on Wednesday by suspending the delivery of four promised F-16 fighter jets.
“The interim government’s strategy clearly consists of politically sidelining the Muslim Brotherhood until the elections,” said German Middle East expert Michael Lueders.
He voiced fears Friday’s rallies could explode into violence that could determine the nation’s direction, saying Sisi was “playing a dangerous game” given the deep polarisation.
London-based rights group Amnesty International criticised Sisi’s call for rallies, in a statement Thursday.
“Given the security forces’ routine use of excessive force, such a move is likely to lead to yet more unlawful killings,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty’s deputy director of its Middle East and North Africa program.
Photo Credit: AFP/Fayez Nureldine