CAIRO — Egypt’s ousted President Mohammed Morsi accused the military chief who deposed him of treason in a message from prison read by lawyers on Wednesday, saying the country cannot return to stability until the coup is reversed and those behind it are tried.
The statement was part of a bid by Morsi to rally his supporters since his emergence from the secret military detention where he had been held, with virtually no contact with the outside world since his July 3 ouster.
Morsi was moved to a high security civilian penitentiary last week after the first session of his trial on charges of inciting murder. There, he had his first extensive meeting with a team of lawyers from his Muslim Brotherhood and other allies on Tuesday, outlining to them his “message to the Egyptian people.”
But he is emerging to a dramatically changed situation from four months ago.
Since then, a fierce crackdown by security forces has crippled the Brotherhood, several thousand members have been arrested, and hundreds have been killed. The group has been banned by a court order and a government-appointed committee is reviewing its financial assets with an eye to seize them. The new military-backed government is pushing ahead with a transition plan aiming for new presidential and parliamentary elections early next year.
In the most recent verdict in the crackdown, a court sentenced 12 pro-Morsi supporters to 17 years in prison each over charges linked to violence at Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s main seat of learning. The Brotherhood described the defendants, who may appeal the ruling, as Morsi supporters. The court set bail for each defendant at 64,000 Egyptian pounds ($9,000) pending any appeal.
The verdict said the defendants were convicted for “gathering to influence authorities and impede implementation of the law,” as well as thuggery, assault, sabotage and other charges. Egypt’s official news agency says protesters at the time had hurled chunks of marble at the building and insulted the grand imam.
Under the crackdown, protests by Morsi’s supporters have dwindled and have been reduced to small gatherings in universities or localized neighborhood rallies. Security officials, however, worry the protests could flare stronger with the lifting of a 3-month-old state of emergency and curfew, which the government confirmed in a statement will happen Thursday.
Ahead of the lifting, the government said in a statement that it had reviewed the security plan to be put in action, which included increasing police deployments, including mobile and fixed checkpoints in the streets.
“Any attempts to destabilize the country or undermine state or citizen’s security will be dealt with firmly in accordance with the law,” the statement said.
The military-backed interim government also announced the setting of a maximum wage for government employees, a step aimed at achieving social justice long demanded by those who led the 2011 uprising which ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak of power. The Cabinet decided that starting in January, the top government wage will be $6,000 a month. The minimum wage was raised several months ago to $171 a month.
Morsi’s statement laid down a hard line, praising protesters for their “steadfastness” and vowing the coup would be reversed.
“The coup has begun to fall apart and will topple in the face of the steadfastness of the Egyptian people,” he said in the statement, read by the lawyers at a press conference. His lawyers stressed that they had taken notes from Morsi and articulated the message themselves.
He said Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who heads the military, had violated his oath of loyalty and committed “treason against God” and “treason against the whole nation by driving a wedge among the people of Egypt.”
He also said Egypt will not see stability until “the military coup is eliminated and those responsible for shedding Egyptians’ blood are held accountable.”
The 62-year-old Morsi also gave his first account of his detention. He said was “kidnapped forcefully and against my will” on July 2, a day before el-Sissi announced the installation of a new interim president. He said he was kept in a Republican Guards facility for three days, then moved to a naval base.
Military and security officials refused to divulge where Morsi was kept until his trial, citing concerns for his safety. Morsi also said he did not meet any military leaders during his detention.
In his trial, Morsi has so far refused to accept legal representation, insisting he remains the elected president and that the tribunal against him is illegitimate. In the trial’s first session — Morsi’s first public appearance since his ouster — he spoke out defiantly, portraying himself as president.
The session, however, was not aired live and no cameras or recording devices were allowed in the courtroom. The only imagery made public from the trial was a short video with no sound that was aired later on state and independent TV channels, showing a healthy Morsi in a dark suit stepping out of a minibus to the courtroom, and later inside the cage.
Lawyer Mohammed el-Damati, who acts as a spokesman for the Brotherhood legal team, said at the press conference Wednesday that so far that position has not changed after the prison meeting the day before, and that it is “too early” to say whether Morsi will accept a lawyer. He has until the next session of the trial, on Jan. 8, to decide.
The team of lawyers will start pursuing legal measures against the coup and those behind it, el-Damati said.
When asked what are the legal options Morsi and his team think they can take to reverse the coup, el-Damati said, “These are thorny issues.” One possibility is to make a complaint to the prosecutor-general or file a suit in administrative courts arguing that the decisions taken by el-Sissi are “null and invalid.”