Last updated: July 27, 2013 12:15 am

Egyptian court looks at charging Morsi

Pro-Mursi supporters shout slogans during a rally around Rabaa Adawiya square, in Cairo©Reuters

Supporters of Mohamed Morsi hold a protest in front of the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo on Friday

Egypt is to pursue criminal charges against deposed president Mohamed Morsi, escalating tensions in rival mass protests by his Islamist supporters and those who backed the military coup that ousted him.

An Egyptian court announced on Friday that it was holding Mr Morsi, pending charges over his alleged contacts with Hamas to help in his escape from prison in 2011.

In charges filed with the court, he is also alleged to have killed security officers and damaged police and prison facilities during his escape from prison. He and other leaders of his Muslim Brotherhood organisation had been detained during the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak, his predecessor.

Mr Morsi has not been seen in public for the past three weeks and his family has accused the army of kidnapping him.

The court said on Friday he would be held for at least 15 days pending a decision on the charges and ordered media not to report on the case except for official pronouncements, according to the state-owned Ahram newspaper.

Under Egypt’s legal system, anyone can file charges regardless of whether they suffered any damages. Prosecutors then decide which cases have merit. Egypt’s military-backed interim authorities have been under pressure from the international community either to charge Mr Morsi and other members of his political organisation or release them.

The former Muslim Brotherhood leader was elected president last year, but removed from office and detained on July 3 in a military coup backed by liberals and Mubarak supporters, including shadowy figures within the security forces.

Mr Morsi’s supporters have dismissed the latest allegations, accusing the courts of acting in the interests of Mubarak loyalists within the country’s security and legal establishment. They noted that court authorities had vetted Mr Morsi before he ran for president in 2012 and failed to note any pending criminal charges.

“After keeping him from his lawyers and his family for the last three weeks they charge him with crimes,” said a senior Brotherhood official. “It’s very clear that there has been no investigation or interrogation. As for the timing of the announcement, we have a fear that they’re trying to push the people towards violence.”

Friday’s allegations have further inflamed passions as Morsi supporters and those who back the military coup joined rival demonstrations across the country.

General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, commander of the armed forces, this week issued an unusual televised appeal for mass demonstrations in support of his fight against “terrorism” – rhetoric Islamists described as a call for civil war. By dusk, at least five people had been killed in the port city of Alexandria and more than 100 injured nationwide, according to state television.

Late last night Egypt’s interior minister was reported by state-run news website al-Ahram as saying sit-in protests by Morsi supporters in Cairo would be cleared “soon and in a legal manner” after complaints filed by residents in the area.

Mr Morsi’s supporters joined dozens of demonstrations throughout the capital and across the country. “Sisi’s speech is a threat that doesn’t have any effect on us,” said Ashraf Abdel-Aziz, a 40-year-old lawyer heading to a march. “We’re camping at Rabaa al-Adawiya and even if Sisi keeps on killing us, we’ll stay for one year. It’s very primitive living, but I’m ready to stay.”

“I’m supporting Sisi’s call,” said Raheb Mohamed, a schoolteacher who claimed she had voted for Mr Morsi last year but now regrets it. “Morsi is a traitor and a loser. He destroyed our country. Sisi is a nationalist man who expresses our pain. We were hostages in our country and Sisi freed us; we begged him to free us.”

State television and private channels owned by businesspeople close to the Mubarak regime on Friday suspended the soap operas and drama series often shown during Ramadan to broadcast documentaries about the armed forces and live coverage of the pro-military rallies.

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Letter in response to this report:

More than one side to the Egypt story / From Mr Ahmed Abdel Latif

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