CAIRO — Egypt’s rulers gave new credence on Thursday to a court case against the ousted president, Mohammed Morsi, and members of the Muslim Brotherhood over their escape from prison during the uprising that toppled Morsi’s predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.
The case was transferred from an appeals court to the State Security prosecutor for further investigation. No charges have been filed as yet. Its acceptance by powerful prosecutors follows the arrest of many Muslim Brotherhood members and is a new blow to the group by the military-backed government.
The detentions have been criticized by rights groups and the Obama administration, which spent Thursday walking back remarks made early in the day by a State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, seeming to criticize Morsi as undemocratic and in so doing seeming to validate the military’s move to oust him.
Reuters reported that Psaki’s counterpart at Egypt’s foreign ministry, Badr Abdelatty, interpreted her remarks as a welcome signal THAT the United States understood “the political developments that Egypt is witnessing in recent days as embodying the will of the millions of Egyptians who took to the streets starting on June 30 to ask for their legitimate rights and call for early elections.”
The Muslim Brotherhood denounced her remarks as hypocritical and further proof of what it has called US endorsement of the military takeover in Egypt.
When asked about the reactions at her regular State Department briefing on Thursday, Psaki said she had been “referring to all of the voices that have been — we have heard coming — the millions, I should say, coming from Egypt, and how strongly they have voiced their views about his rule. But beyond that is up for the Egyptian people to determine.”
The renewed investigation of Morsi and members of the Muslim Brotherhood dates to the uprising that led to the ouster of Mubarak in 2011. Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders were arrested Jan. 28 and held in the Wadi Natroun prison north of Cairo, until they escaped two days later.
In a phone call to Al Jazeera television immediately after the escape, Morsi said he was among more than 30 Brotherhood members, including six other members of its Guidance Bureau, who had been broken out of their cells by people they did not know. Some appeared to be other inmates, while others were dressed like civilians, Morsi said.
“More than a hundred people made every effort to open up the prison for more than four hours,” Morsi said. Once out of their cells, they found that “the courtyard was empty and we only saw the group that for a long time had been trying to break the door.”
The case languished after Morsi was elected last year in the country’s first free presidential race, although local news outlets and Morsi’s opponents accused militants from Hamas, the Brotherhood’s Palestinian offshoot, of freeing their colleagues.
The ouster of Morsi and the subsequent suppression of the Brotherhood has enraged the group’s members and led to a spate of scapegoating attacks by Muslim extremists against Christians they accuse of supporting his fall, rights activists said.
While tensions between the Christian minority and extremist elements in the Muslim majority are not new, attacks have been reported across the country — in the northern Sinai Peninsula, in a resort town on the Mediterranean Coast, in Port Said along the Suez Canal, and in isolated villages in upper Egypt.
A priest has been shot dead in the street, Islamists have painted black X’s on Christian shops to mark them for arson and mobs have attacked churches and besieged Christians in their homes. Four Christians were reported killed with knives and machetes in one village last week.