CAIRO — Deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi and 35 others will be tried on charges of espionage and aiding acts of terrorism, state prosecutors said Wednesday in the latest blow dealt by military-backed authorities to the former leader and his associates in the Muslim Brotherhood after a coup in the summer .
In a statement, Egypt’s prosecutor general accused Morsi and his top aides of sharing state secrets with Iran, with which Cairo has no diplomatic relations, and of spying on Egypt for the Palestinian militant group Hamas and the Lebanese militant organization Hezbollah.
The charges alleged that the Muslim Brotherhood, in collaboration with Sunni jihadists trained by Iran’s Shiite government, plotted during Egypt’s 2011 uprising to plunge the country into chaos and then seize and keep power. The charge sheet called it “the biggest conspiracy in the nation’s history.”
In one of the more peculiar allegations, prosecutors accused Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood co-defendants of “opening channels of communication with the West via Turkey and Qatar.”
Both Turkey and Qatar were allies of Morsi while he was in power. But it was unclear why communicating with “the West” — which the statement did not define — was being considered a crime. Despite recent tensions, Egypt continues to maintain relations with the United States and other Western nations.
If convicted, Morsi and his co-defendants could face the death penalty. The former president and other leading Islamists are already on trial over separate allegations, including incitement to kill protesters last December, when Morsi was serving as Egypt’s first democratically elected leader.
Morsi has been held incommunicado since his July 3 ouster. He appeared in court briefly on Nov. 4 and will again stand before a judge on Jan. 8.
The latest charges appear to have emerged from an earlier investigation into Morsi’s escape from a prison north of Cairo during the heady days of Egypt’s 2011 uprising, which ousted longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak. Prosecutors allege that the prison break was facilitated by Hamas and Hezbollah fighters working to hasten the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power.
Prosecutors accused the Brotherhood and Hamas of involvement in recent militant attacks in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, although security analysts and local residents have attributed the violence to the jihadist group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, also known as Ansar Jerusalem.
The fresh indictments against the Islamists raise new doubts about the independence of Egypt’s judiciary, which is largely seen as a holdover from the Mubarak era.
Human rights activists and lawyers already were questioning the acquittals of dozens of officials and security officers on charges of killing protesters during the 2011 uprising. On Tuesday, rights advocates alleged that prosecutors forged judicial documents to bring about those acquittals.
“The revolution is under attack from Mubarak’s men, who are in power right now,” said Nasser Amin, director of the Cairo-based Arab Center for Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession. Until Wednesday’s revelations of the new indictments against Morsi, he added, no one knew “the details of the investigations that took place over the past year.”