Bassem Youssef Taken Off Air as Protests Erupt in Egypt Ahead of Mohammed Morsi's Trial
Monday may be the first time the public has seen Egypt's former president, Mohammed Morsi, since he was ousted and detained by the military on July 3rd, and his supporters are gearing up. Thousands of pro-Brotherhood demonstrators marched in cities across the country Friday and again Saturday, in what is part of a four day protest ahead of the former president's trial. Adding fuel to a growing anti-government sentiment, a popular Egyptian satirist, Bassem Youssef — often called Egypt's "John Stewart" — saw his television show suspended late Friday, after the comedian made anti-military remarks.
Muslim Brotherhood supporters reportedly waved signs and expressed anger over the upcoming trial, calling it a "farce" and demanding that General Fattah al-Sisi, the military commander, be tried instead. According to security sources, seven people have been injured in Alexandria, after local residents clashed with the protestors.
“If the trial is stopped, it will be a setback. If we can stop this trial, we will stop their progress,” said a Brotherhood member.
On Saturday, Egypt's Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim warned that any attempt to break into the as-yet-undisclosed location of the former president's trial would be dealt with swiftly, and there are reports that a force of roughly 20,000 police officials will surround the trial venue.
"Security forces will deal firmly and decisively with any law violations," Ibrahim said. "Forces will use their right to defend Egypt's security, lives, properties and buildings as well as the defendants in the trial."
"The forces will counter any plot by Muslim Brotherhood members," he added.
The former president is on trial for inciting the violence that led to ten people being killed last December, when thousands of demonstrators gathered outside the presidential palace to protest against a referendum that expanded the leader’s powers, and were subsequently broken up — forcefully — by Morsi supporters. But the trial — which comes after months of Morsi being held in isolated detention, and amid a nation-wide government crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood — will be chockablock with political foes, and is largely being viewed as a potentially retributive, rather than judicial, measure.
“Undoubtedly, this is an unfair trial par excellence. It is fallout from the coup,” said a senior lawyer in the Brotherhood legal team.
Moreover, a recent report from international NGO Human Rights Watch draws attention to the inherent hypocrisy of putting the former President on trial while the post-ouster military continues to forcibly clamp down on pro-Morsi protesters. Specifically, the report condemns Egypt’s authorities for failing to investigate security force clashes with protesters in early October, during which 57 demonstrators died but no policemen.
“In dealing with protest after protest, Egyptian security forces escalate quickly and without warning to live ammunition, with deadly results,” said the deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Thirteen hundred people have died since July. What will it take for the authorities to rein in security forces or even set up a fact-finding committee into their use of deadly force?”
But Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr AbdelAtty has insisted that the proceedings are legitimate, saying earlier this week that there would be “nothing extraordinary, nothing exceptional” about the trial, adding that Morsi “will have the full rights to have a free and fair trial in accordance to due process. He will have his own lawyer ... he will have the whole due process, and he will have the right to go to appeal.”
Worries about the military-backed government also grew after an Egyptian television station refused to air the Friday night episode of satirist Bassem Yousseff 's comedy series, just minutes before it was supposed to run — and only a week after he mocked the growing pro-military fervor in Egypt, during the first episode since the military ouster in June. Although the television network cited contractual problems, the cancellation has drawn criticism and been taken as an example of censorship in post-ouster Egypt.
Meanwhile, however, it's been announced that Secretary of State John Kerry will be stopping in Egypt for a few hours Sunday — his first visit since the military take-over, and a significant step in the recently strained relations between Egypt and the United States.