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Government and Security Sector Accountability

Qatar Espionage Case

Court / Presiding Judge

First Review: Cairo Criminal Court/Judge Muhammad Shereen Fahmy
Second Review: Court of Cassation/Judge Hamdy Abul Kheir

Procedural History

In September 2014, Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat referred former president Muhammad Morsi and 10 other defendants on charges of illegally obtaining copies of intelligence reports on the armed forces plans and intending to deliver the documents to the Qatari network Al Jazeera. In May and June 2016, the court issued its sentence. In September 2017, the Court of Cassation issued a decision on its review of the case.


On first review and in May 2016, the court preliminarily referred six of the defendants to the Grand Mufti of Egypt for possible death sentences. In June 2016, Morsi, his personal secretary, and his office manager were sentenced to life in prison. The six initial death sentences were confirmed. All of the aforementioned defendants received an additional 15-year jail sentence. Finally, two other defendants were sentenced to 15 years in prison and one of the two defendants was slammed with an additional fine. Upon second review of the case, the Court of Cassation upheld Morsi’s life sentence, but canceled the additional 15-year jail term he had been handed; it also amended some of the other sentences.

Summary of Reasoning

The defendants were charged with leaking important national security documents from Egypt’s General and Military Intelligence, the Armed Forces, National Security, and the Administrative Control Authority to Qatar.

Anecdotal Notes

Among the defendants in this case were Morsi, his secretary, his office manager, a documentary film producer, a Misr25 producer, an EgyptAir flight attendant, a university assistant, and a student. Defendants on trial in absentia included a Rassd News reporter, an Al Jazeera program executive, and the head of Al Jazeera’s news sector. The list of witnesses included but were not limited to former head of the president’s office Mustafa Talaat, former minister of interior Muhammad Ibrahim, and former chief of the Republican Guard Muhammad Zaki.

Legal & Judicial Implications

There were serious questions regarding the quality of evidence offered in this case. Evidence included everything from personal phone calls with family members on unrelated matters to Disney cartoons and PDF copies of prayer charts. More generally, there were questions on the level of politicization of the charges at hand in light of strained relations between Egypt and Qatar and previous court verdicts implicating Al Jazeera.