- Associated Press - Sunday, August 25, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — In parallel trial sessions, Egyptian courts on Sunday heard cases against ousted President Hosni Mubarak and top leaders of his archrival, the Muslim Brotherhood, related to killings during the 2011 and 2013 protest campaigns that led to their respective downfalls.

The court trying Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie and five other members of the Islamist group postponed hearings until Oct. 29. The defendants, two of whom are still in hiding and being tried in absentia, are accused in relation to clashes outside the Brotherhood’s Cairo headquarters on June 30 that left nine dead.

The four in detention were not present in the downtown Cairo courtroom for security reasons. They were arrested during the last month as part of a massive crackdown on the Brotherhood following the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the group, and related violence.

At another courtroom in eastern Cairo, Mr. Mubarak looked relaxed in dark sunglasses and white clothes in his first court appearance since he was released from prison last week and transferred to a military hospital. The 85-year-old ex-president, whose lawyer has claimed has been on the verge of death, sat in a chair next to his two sons, who are being tried in a separate corruption-related case.

Mr. Mubarak has been in detention since April 2011, two months after he was ousted in an uprising against his rule. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison last year for failing to stop the killing of some 900 protesters in the 18-day uprising, but his sentence was overturned on appeal. In April, his retrial opened along with those of his security chief and six top police commanders.

His trial has been postponed to Sept. 14.

The six Brotherhood members, including MR. Badie and his deputies Khairat el-Shater and Rashad Bayoumi, are charged with instigating the killings of nine protesters on June 30, when millions took to the streets demanding the ouster of Mr. Morsi.

The killings took place near the Brotherhood’s east Cairo headquarters, which was attacked by an allegedly anti-Morsi crowd. Dozens of Brotherhood members were trapped inside the building for hours, and it was eventually set on fire. The group said the police encouraged “thugs” to attack the building while security officials at the time said that the group placed snipers atop the building.

The military toppled Mr. Morsi three days later, then launched a massive crackdown on the Islamist movement, arresting top leaders, including Mr. el-Shater and MR. Bayoumi, and shut down Islamic TV networks.

On Aug. 14, riot police, backed by armored vehicles and bulldozers, moved to clear two sprawling encampments of Morsi supporters, sparking days of violence that left more than 1,000 people dead across the country. The interim presidency declared a monthlong state of emergency. Mr. Badie and hundreds, including field organizers, were arrested in the aftermath.

The most recent arrest took place Sunday when authorities arrested the son of leading Brotherhood figure Mohammed el-Beltagy in the city of Beni Suef, about 60 miles south of Cairo, along with four other group members. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press. The elder Mr. el-Beltagy is among the most senior of the Brotherhood figures still in hiding.

Authorities have alleged that Morsi supporters are committing acts of terrorism and point to a string of attacks against churches and government buildings. The Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi supporters deny their protests are violent or that they attack churches, accusing authorities of smearing their movement. Rights groups, however, say Islamist groups have incited violence against Christians, blaming them collectively for Mr. Morsi’s overthrow.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights issued a report Sunday documenting what it said was an “unprecedented spike in scale of sectarian violence and reprisals against Copts” from Aug. 14 to 17.

“Houses of worship and Coptic-owned property have been systematically targeted. … The resulting damage is unprecedented,” the group said in its report. At least 45 churches came under attack, and a total of seven citizens were killed, it said. It blamed both security forces for failing to intervene and Islamist groups for helping to “feed the current wave of sectarian attacks.”

Islamists issued renewed calls for demonstrations Sunday in a statement issued in the name of the “National Coalition to Support Legitimacy and Reject the Coup.” But arrests and killings appear to have weakened the Muslim Brotherhood’s ability to mobilize its following. Calls for rallies fizzled out Saturday while the government eased up the curfew hours.

The military-backed interim government, meanwhile, is pursuing a fast-tract transition plan that it says will return the country to democracy.

On Sunday, a 10-member panel of experts is due to hand a first draft of proposed constitutional amendments to the interim presidency, a first step toward amending the now-suspended charter drafted last year under Mr. Morsi. A second panel of 50 members will work on the amendments before finalizing them and putting them for public vote.

Once the constitution is adopted, the plan envisions presidential and parliamentary elections by early next year.

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