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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 (who was still alive at the time) and 10 other defendants. 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 in May 2016, the court preliminarily referred six of the defendants to the Mufti 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 additional 15-year jail sentences. Finally, two other defendants were sentenced to 15 years in prison and one of the two defendants was handed 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 former president 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 department. The list of witnesses included former head of the president’s office Mustafa Talaat, former minister of interior Muhammad Ibrahim, and former commander of the Republican Guard Major General Muhammad Zaki. In June 2019, Morsi collapsed and died during a court hearing in the Espionage 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.

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.