The ruling, which can be appealed, and muted Islamist reaction following it underscore the dramatic downfall of Morsi and Egypt’s once-powerful Muslim Brotherhood group. However, Morsi escaped receiving a death sentence in the case.
Morsi and the Brotherhood swiftly rose to power in elections after autocrat Hosni Mubarak’s 2011 ouster, only to find themselves imprisoned a year later when millions protested against them for abusing power and the military overthrew the government.
But as Mubarak and members of his government increasingly find themselves acquitted of criminal charges, Morsi and the Brotherhood are at the receiving end of heavy-handed sentences.
The verdict sparked no street protests, reflecting the toll of a heavy security crackdown on any show of dissident — either by Islamists or secular-leaning activists.
During the hearing, Judge Ahmed Youssef issued his verdict as Morsi and other defendants in the case — mostly Brotherhood leaders — stood in a soundproof glass cage inside a makeshift courtroom at Egypt’s national police academy. Seven of the accused were tried in absentia.
In addition to Morsi, 12 Brotherhood leaders and Islamist supporters, including Mohammed el-Beltagy and Essam el-Erian, also were sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Youssef dropped murder charges involved in the case and said the sentences were linked to the “show of force” and unlawful detention associated with the case.
The case stems from violence outside the presidential palace in December 2012. Morsi’s supporters attacked opposition protesters demanding that Morsi call off a referendum on an Islamist-drafted constitution. Clashes developed into deadly confrontations overnight that killed at least 10 people.
During yesterday’s hearing, Morsi and the rest of the defendants in white jumpsuits raised the four-finger sign symbolising the sit-in at the Rabaah al-Adawiya mosque, where hundreds were killed when security forces violently dispersed the sprawling sit-in by Morsi’s supporters on Aug. 14, 2013. They also smiled for cameras filming the hearing.
Under the government of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who as army chief overthrew Morsi, Brotherhood members and Islamists have faced mass trials that end with mass death sentences, sparking international condemnation.