Egyptian prosecutors on Saturday referred ousted President Mohammed Morsi to a third trial, on charges of organizing prison breaks during the 2011 uprising, spreading chaos in the country and abducting policemen in collaboration with foreign militants.
The new charges against Morsi and 129 others widen the legal crackdown on the ousted Islamist president and his group, the Muslim Brotherhood, levelling sweeping accusations, most of which carry the death penalty.
Egypt's new, military-backed authorities have sought to portray the Brotherhood as largely responsible for violence and militant attacks that engulfed the country following the 2011 ouster of Morsi's predecessor, longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The violence has surged in the aftermath of a popularly-backed military coup that deposed Morsi in July.
The latest case against Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, is rooted in events during the 2011 uprising.
Days after major protests erupted against Mubarak, the government arrested dozens of Brotherhood leaders, including Morsi. Then, amid the turmoil and collapsing security, more than 20,000 inmates escaped in a series of jailbreaks, including Morsi and other Brotherhood members. Authorities said the jailbreaks were part of an organized effort to destabilize the country.
Investigative Judge Hassan Samir on Saturday said other Brotherhood suspects in the case include the group's leader Mohammed Badie, his deputy Mahmoud Ezzat, who is still at large, former Parliament Speaker Saad el-Katatni and others.
Also charged are members of the Palestinian militant group Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah group. Members from those two groups were among those who broke out of Egyptian jails. A prominent pro-Brotherhood cleric Youssef el-Qaradawi, an Egyptian based in Qatar, is also on the list, said a prosecution official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
A prosecution statement from Samir's office didn't name all the 129 defendants. It said an investigation into the case since April has shown that the Brotherhood plotted with foreign groups to "destroy the Egyptian state and its institutions," recruiting some 800 militants in the Gaza Strip to attack police stations and at least three prisons in Egypt, breaking out thousands of prisoners, and killing policemen and other inmates.
No date has been set for the trial.
Already, Morsi and several leading Muslim Brotherhood members face charges in a separate case of inciting the murder of his opponents while he was in office — a trial that has already started and is due to resume next month.
Morsi was also charged earlier this week with conspiring with foreign groups to destabilize Egypt in a case dubbed "the biggest case of conspiracy" in the nation's history. A date for that second trial also has not been announced, though officials have suggested it would likely come after the Jan. 14-15 referendum to avoid an earlier start that could fuel turmoil.
The 83-year old Brotherhood had been banned under Mubarak and earlier Egyptian regimes, but was mostly tolerated. The new crackdown is a dramatic turn in fortunes, particularly after the group rose to prominence as Egypt's best-organized political movement to win the first free parliament elections and successfully bid for the country's highest office.
Since the coup, prompted by massive protests calling for Morsi's removal, Egypt has been in continual unrest. Morsi supporters have been holding near daily protests demanding his reinstatement, met by a fierce security crackdown that has killed hundreds of people and arrested thousands of Brotherhood members. Meanwhile, a wave of retaliatory attacks by suspected Islamic militants have targeted Christians and security forces, and the Sinai Peninsula has been the centre of a mounting militant insurgency.
With thousands of Brotherhood members under arrest and scores facing charges like Morsi, the Islamist group and rights organizations have called the trials politically motivated.