CAIRO -- In a blunt new assertion of prosecutorial powers, Egyptian officials said Sunday that two dozen figures from across the political spectrum -- deposed president Mohamed Morsi among them -- would stand trial for insulting the judiciary.
The move, reported by state media, suggested no likely easing of authoritarian measures adopted by the interim government in recent months to suppress dissent. It also came one day after Egyptian authorities hailed overwhelming approval of a new constitution, with official results showing that more than 98% of voters had endorsed the new national charter.
During its six months in power, the military-backed administration has waged a harsh campaign against Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest and oldest Islamist movement, but has moved against secularists as well. In the last two months, many have run afoul of a new law that in effect criminalizes street protests.
Egypt’s divisive political climate drew criticism from international groups monitoring last week’s referendum and recent actions of the interim government. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday noted the groups’ concerns that a “polarized” environment had hampered the fairness of the vote.
Those identified Sunday as facing charges included a grab bag of figures, some of them prominent in the Muslim Brotherhood, but also liberal former members of parliament, an activist blogger who was detained in November, and a right-wing talk-show host. Insulting the judiciary -- a charge that can be very broadly defined -- can carry a three-year prison term.
This is the fourth court case to be opened against Morsi, who is due in the criminal dock again next week. A court appearance set for Jan. 8 was abruptly canceled when authorities decided not to transport him from his high-security prison to the court venue, citing what they described as bad weather conditions.
The latest judicial moves come as Egyptians prepare to mark the third anniversary of the uprising that drove longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak from power. Some of those swept up in a recent wave of arrests and charges include well-known figures from the mass protests centered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Morsi was removed from office by the military in July after a tumultuous year in office and massive demonstrations demanding an end to his rule. The military-backed government has embarked on a “road map” for restoring democracy, with last week’s referendum as the first major step. Presidential and parliamentary elections are to follow later this year.
Special correspondent Amro Hassan contributed to this report.