Cairo (AsiaNews) – The sentence against former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi “is too light”. Yesterday, he was sentenced to 20 years for inciting his supporters to use violence on 5 December 2012, which led to the death of a journalist and two other people. However, the court acquitted him of murder charges. This way, “he managed to escape the death penalty," said Fr Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Catholic Church in Egypt, speaking to AsiaNews.
"In general, people think that the punishment is light,” he said. “Usually for those who kill, there is the death penalty. Even those who are accessory to murder can get the death penalty. Many people thought that Morsi would receive the death penalty."
The trial that ended yesterday is just the first of four legal proceedings against Morsi, who was ousted by the people and the army in 2013.
Fr Greiche is the parish priest of St Cyril Church in Heliopolis, near the presidential palace.
"I can say that I was an eye witness of the facts related to Morsi’s conviction yesterday. On 4 December 2012, there were many demonstrations against Morsi because in the days before he had made some changes to the constitution and seized all the powers [of the state].
“This was the first and biggest violation of democracy, a step towards dictatorship, a real coup. That day I was in church. Even though there was a large demonstration, police were quiet and no incident occurred.”
However, “At Rabaa Al-Adawiya, a mosque held by the Muslim Brotherhood, members of the group began saying that Christians were besieging the presidential palace. I went on television and tried to explain what was going on, that the rally was for democracy and that the gathering included both Christians and Muslims.
“On 5 December, I received a message telling me that the Muslim Brotherhood was planning to hold an evening prayer in front of the presidential palace.
“In front of my church, there is a bus station with taxis and car rental. Many people came with knives, guns, and stones. I was worried about possible clashes, so I immediately sent home the people praying in church.
“After an hour and a half, a very violent demonstration broke out. People were killed on orders of the president. Morsi had even given the order to the presidential guard to fire on people, but soldiers refused.
“Three people were killed, at least 30 more were injured, a power outage followed, shops were attacked, windows broken . . . Police arrested many people, who were later freed."
"Morsi did not kill, but gave orders to kill or injure people,” Fr Greiche said. “So he was an accessory to murder. For this reason, he was sentenced to 20 years."
Twelve members of the Brotherhood and the former government were convicted along with Morsi.
Yesterday, after the verdict was announced, several hundreds of people – linked to the Muslim Brotherhood – staged demonstrations at Cairo University and in some streets. There was some acts of violence: stones were thrown, cars burnt, and people clashed with police. However, in general, most people in Egypt are neither worried nor interested in Morsi’s fate.
"People are indifferent to what might happen to him,” Fr Greiche said. “It is as if they have turned the corner and no longer want to remember the painful past. They expect something new from President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi".
Al-Sisi was elected president in May 2014, pledging to improve the economy – which had tanked after the fall of Hosni Mubarak – and fight Islamic extremism and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Thousands of members of the Brotherhood are in prison, along with several leaders of the Arab Spring, who accuse the president of stifling the opposition. However, al-Sisi remains widely popular among ordinary Egyptians.
"People see some positive signs in terms of security and the economy,” Fr Greiche said. “Now things are calmer in the cities and there is greater control against terrorist acts.”
“During the Easter holidays, shops and supermarkets were full of people buying. This is a sign that a bit more wealth is circulating than in the past. "