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HomeNewsboxEgyptian Court Overturns Death Sentence for Mohamed Morsi

Egyptian Court Overturns Death Sentence for Mohamed Morsi

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Mohamed Morsi, the ousted Egyptian president, during his trial in Cairo in June.

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Mohamed Hossam/European Pressphoto Agency

CAIRO — One of Egypt’s highest courts overturned a death sentence imposed on Mohamed Morsi, who was the country’s first democratically elected president and was ousted in 2013 by the military.

Mr. Morsi, who is serving a life sentence in prison for offenses related to espionage and inciting violence, is likely to remain in prison indefinitely.

The annulment of his death sentence — as well as the sentences against five other leaders of Mr. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement — suggests the government’s reluctance to execute leaders of the Brotherhood, which still maintains some public support after its role in the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

The Brotherhood, which held power for just over a year, has been classified as a terrorist group by the government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the president and a former military leader, and thousands of the group’s leaders and members have been jailed or killed or have gone into exile. Even so, observers widely believe that executing top leaders like Mr. Morsi could lead to a new surge of violence.

The Court of Cassation, an appellate panel that interprets and applies Egyptian law, ordered a retrial of a case in which Mr. Morsi was charged with orchestrating a prison break during the chaotic days of the 2011 uprising against Mr. Mubarak. The case must be heard again in the courts.

Mr. Morsi may again be given the death sentence, said Khaled Nashar, the spokesman for the Ministry of Justice. “The Court of Cassation’s job is to make sure the courts followed the law,” Mr. Nashar said. “They have to redo the procedures now and then. They can issue whatever verdict they see fit.”

But even if Mr. Morsi is again sentenced to death, the penalty is unlikely to be carried out, “if only for the reaction it would provoke within Egypt,” said H. A. Hellyer, a scholar at the Atlantic Council, a think tank in Washington.

If Mr. Morsi were executed, he said, it could undo the uneasy calm that has settled in Egypt since 2013, when Mr. Sisi, who was then commander of Egypt’s armed forces, led an uprising that deposed Mr. Morsi amid a popular wave of anger against the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. Mr. Morsi had been democratically elected president the year before.

Mr. Sisi led a crackdown against the group, including killing at least 800 people, and possibly as many as 1,000, when security forces dispersed a sit-in in Cairo in August 2013.

Executing Mr. Morsi would very likely make him a martyr to millions of Islamists and provide fuel for violence. It was that concern, rather than any desire for reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, that would keep him alive, Mr. Hellyer said.

“They are crazy, but they are not that crazy,” Mr. Hellyer said of the Egyptian authorities. “I don’t think they want to execute him, but it doesn’t mean he is getting out.”

Mr. Morsi has been sentenced several times to life in prison. One of those sentences, on charges arising from the killing of protesters outside the presidential palace in December 2012, does not permit parole.

Last year, he was given lengthy prison terms on charges of spying for Qatar; for Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza; and for Hezbollah, the Shiite Lebanese group.

He also is facing trial for another case involving insulting the judiciary. The next hearing is set for December, said Nicholas Piachaud, a researcher on Egyptian affairs at the human rights group Amnesty International.

The Court of Cassation rules only on matters of law, not matters of fact. Abdel-Monem Abdel-Maqsoud, one of Mr. Morsi’s lawyers, had argued that the death penalty should be overturned “because the initial trial was deeply flawed.”

Mr. Abdel-Maqsoud added: “It’s not like he is going home today. He already has a final sentence of 20 years in prison. But at least today he gets to take off the red suit.”

Prisoners awaiting the death penalty in Egypt wear red jumpsuits; other prisoners wear blue.

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