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Government and Security Sector Accountability

Espionage Case

Court / Presiding Judge

First Review: Cairo Criminal Court/Judge Shaaban al-Shami
Second Review: Cairo Criminal Court/Judge Muhammad Fahmy

Procedural History

On May 16, 2015, the court referred the death sentences in the case to the Mufti. Final verdicts were issued on June 16, 2015. On November 22, 2016, the Court of Cassation suspended 22 sentences and ordered a retrial. The retrial is still ongoing.


On first review, death sentences were provisionally handed out to a number of defendants including then-living former president Mohammad Morsi. However, in June 2015 and after referral of their papers to the Mufti, Morsi and 16 others received life sentences instead. Khairat al-Shater, Mohamed al-Beltagy, and Ahmed Abdel Aty were sentenced to death. The death sentences of 13 others were issued in absentia. Upon second review, 22 different sentences (including that of Morsi) were overturned by the Court of Cassation and a new trial was ordered. The retrial is still ongoing.

Summary of Reasoning

This case relates to prosecutors’ allegations that the Muslim Brotherhood set forth a plan in 2005 to send “elements" to military training camps run by Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Revolutionary Guards in Iran. Prosecutors alleged that upon their return, these men joined jihadist groups in Sinai and helped create the instability that triggered the January 25 Revolution. The defendants faced charges of conspiring with foreign organizations to carry out terrorist acts, revealing military secrets to foreign countries, conducting military training to achieve the goals of the Muslim Brotherhood, and committing acts that jeopardize the independence, unity, and security of Egypt.

Anecdotal Notes

The European Union criticized the first review of this case as “flawed" and referred to the punishment as “cruel and inhumane." When the retrial for Morsi and 21 other defendants was granted, Hamas celebrated the ruling and stated: “This ruling proves that the Palestinian cause is on the right path and Egypt acts equally toward all Palestinian factions." In June 2019, Morsi collapsed and died during a court hearing in this case; during his detention, he was reportedly kept in solitary confinement, was not allowed to receive vistors, and did not receive adequate medical care for serious health issues, including diabetes. Under Egyptian law, Morsi should not be tried posthumously, but the trial will continue for all other defendants.

Legal & Judicial Implications

The prosecution referred to the case as “the biggest case of conspiracy in Egypt's history." This phrase was constantly reiterated in the media, thus raising significant concerns of its politicization. The initial significant sentences against Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders also raises questions surrounding the discrepancy in accountability for crimes committed by Brotherhood leaders, as opposed to Mubarak and officials formerly serving in his government. During the investigatory period of the case, Morsi was kept incommunicado and reportedly not granted access to a lawyer, thus raising serious due process concerns.