CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's top prosecutor on Sunday referred ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi to trial on charges of inciting the killing of opponents protesting outside his palace while he was in office, the state news agency said.
The military ousted Morsi on July 3 after millions took to the streets demanding that he step down. He's been held incommunicado since. Despite other accusations by prosecutors, the decision Sunday is Morsi's first referral to trial. No date was announced for the trial.
Morsi will be tried in a criminal court for allegedly inciting his supporters to kill at least 10 people, use violence and unlawfully detain and torture protesters. Fourteen other members of the Muslim Brotherhood will be tried with Morsi, including top aides and leading members of his political party.
The case dates back to one of the deadliest bouts of violence during Morsi's one year in office. At least 100,000 protesters gathered outside the presidential palace on Dec. 4, protesting a decree Morsi issued to protect his decisions from judicial oversight and a highly disputed draft constitution that was hurriedly adopted by the Islamist-dominated parliament.
Protesters demanded that Morsi call off a referendum scheduled days later. The next day, Islamist groups and supporters of Morsi attacked protesters who had camped outside the presidential palace, sparking deadly street battles that left at least 10 dead and sent chills among Morsi's opponents that he had relied on organized mobs to suppress the sit-in.
The state news agency said an investigation by prosecutors revealed that Morsi had asked the Republican Guard and the minister in charge of police to break up the sit-in, but they feared a bloody confrontation and declined. The agency said Morsi's aides then summoned their supporters to forcefully break up the sit-in.
At least one journalist was killed in these clashes and 54 civilians were held and tortured by Morsi supporters outside the palace, before they handed them over to the police.
Officials from the Brotherhood and its political party denied using violence to quell critics and said supporters were defending the palace. They accused opponents of starting the battles and forcing away police that had been guarding the area.
Those referred to trial with Morsi include the deputy leader of the Brotherhood's political party, Essam el-Erian, who is currently in hiding. They also include leading Brotherhood member Mohammed el-Beltagy, who was arrested this week, as well as leading pro-Brotherhood youth leaders who were video-taped during the street clashes on the front lines.
Since Morsi's ouster, authorities have waged an intensive security crackdown on members of the Brotherhood. The crackdown followed the violent breakup of weeks-long sit-ins held in Cairo by Morsi supporters demanding his reinstatement that left hundreds dead.
The Islamist-drafted constitution was one of the most divisive issues during Morsi's time in office. It was suspended after the military ousted Morsi.
Meanwhile, in a sign that the interim authorities are forging ahead with their transition plan, Egypt's interim president appointed a 50-member committee Sunday dominated by liberal and secular public figures and politicians to review proposed amendments to the disputed Islamist-drafted constitution.
The committee is to begin discussions Sept. 8 on the changes proposed by a 10-member panel of judges, also appointed by interim President Adly Mansour. It is then expected to put the amended charter to a public vote within 60 days, presidential spokesman Ihab Badawi said.
A military-backed transition plan calls for parliamentary and presidential elections early next year.
The new review committee includes five women well as four representatives from the youth groups that led the protests against Morsi and his predecessor, longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. There are also three Christian clerics, but no private citizens who are Christians.
There are three representatives of Al-Azhar, the Sunni world's most prestigious learning institute that represents moderate Islam. There are also representatives from professional unions, universities and the arts.
Badawi said the Muslim Brotherhood's political party and five other Islamist parties were invited to nominate candidates, but only the ultraconservative Salafi al-Nour party agreed to participate.
Lawmakers elected the Islamist-dominated 100-member committee that drafted the constitution under Morsi. It included 60 people affiliated with Islamist groups, six women and six Christians.
In drafting the constitution under Morsi, liberals twice walked out of the committee, complaining that the Brotherhood and its allies were dominating the process and stifling their suggestions. They said the charter undermined freedoms and rights and sought to imbue a strict interpretation of Islam into Egypt's laws.
It is not yet clear how the new committee will vote on the amendments, an issue which could complicate and prolong discussions. The amendments suggested by the judges remove controversial articles from the constitution approved when Morsi was in power that give Muslim clerics a final say over legislation and allow room for stricter interpretation and implementation of Islamic laws.
Sherif Taha, a spokesman for the Salafi al-Nour party, criticized what he called the "marginalization" of the Islamists' role in the new review committee. His party has said it would argue in the committee to restore articles removed by the judges that stress the Islamic nature of the state and outlaw insulting religious figures and violating social mores.
Badawi said a former member of the Brotherhood, Kamal el-Helbawi, also has agreed to sit on the committee and "will take into consideration the interests" of the group.