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Morsi, top aides to be tried for espionage, takeover plot

– Deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and 35 others will be tried on charges of espionage and aiding acts of terrorism, state prosecutors said Wednesday in the latest blow dealt by military-backed authorities to the former leader and his associates in the Muslim Brotherhood after a coup in the summer.

In a statement, Egypt’s prosecutor general accused Morsi and his top aides of sharing state secrets with Iran, with which Cairo has no diplomatic relations, and of spying on Egypt for the Palestinian militant group Hamas and the Lebanese militant organization Hezbollah.

The charges alleged that the Muslim Brotherhood, in collaboration with Sunni jihadists trained by Iran’s Shiite government, plotted during Egypt’s 2011 uprising to plunge the country into chaos and then seize and keep power. The charge sheet called it “the biggest conspiracy in the nation’s history.”

In one of the more peculiar allegations, prosecutors accused Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood co-defendants of “opening channels of communication with the West via Turkey and Qatar.”

Both Turkey and Qatar were allies of Morsi while he was in power. But it was unclear why communicating with “the West” was being considered a crime. Despite recent tensions, Egypt continues to maintain relations with the United States and other Western nations.

If convicted, Morsi and his co-defendants could face the death penalty. The former president and other leading Islamists are already on trial over separate allegations, including incitement to kill protesters last December

Morsi has been held incommunicado since his July 3 ouster. He appeared in court briefly on Nov. 4 and will again stand before a judge on Jan. 8.

The latest charges appear to have emerged from an earlier investigation into Morsi’s escape from a prison north of Cairo during the heady days of Egypt’s 2011 uprising, which ousted longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak. Prosecutors allege that the prison break was facilitated by Hamas and Hezbollah fighters working to hasten the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power.