Egypt's state prosecutor on Wednesday referred 12 activists and bloggers to trial on charges of instigating violence during a demonstration at the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group from which the president hails, according to the state-run news agency.
The defendants, including several activists who are iconic among the youth movement that led 2011 revolution, are among a number of critics of President Mohammed Morsi who have been investigated or charged in recent months. The president says the opposition is stirring unrest to undermine his authority, but critics say his government is stifling dissent ahead of a call for mass demonstrations at the end of the month calling for his ouster.
The charges stem from a protest dubbed "Battle of the Mountain" that took place at the Brotherhood's headquarters atop Cairo's Muqattam cliff. It was one of the worst in a series of clashes between Brotherhood supporters and the opposition during the spring. The melee saw both sides beating each other with sticks, rocks, knives, and their fists, and more than 200 people were injured.
MENA quoted Prosecutor General Talaat Abdullah as saying that the accused activists included Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Nawara Negm, Ahmed Douma, and Karim el-Shaer, all well-known youth leaders who helped spearhead the 2011 revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak. Douma had received a six-month suspended sentence for insulting the president on Monday.
Those summoned included no Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
The March 22 clashes came amid spike in political violence in Egypt. Islamists say that the opposition is unable to beat them at the ballot box and have been trying to undercut them through street protests, wrecking the country's stability and economy. In a speech following the demonstrations, a visibly angry Morsi shouted and pounded the table, warning his opponents he was on the verge of taking unspecified measures to protect the nation.
Activists respond that Muslim Brotherhood street protesters have been responsible for many of the violent incidents, but never charged. The Muqattam clashes were set off by a videotaped incident in which a Muslim Brotherhood member slapped a woman to the ground and others roughed up activists who were spray-painting graffiti. Brotherhood officials accused the protesters of attacking its office, saying its members were defending the building.
Several of the defendants have said their prosecutions are politicized, with the allegedly incriminating statements either not calling violence or made by other people entirely.
Abdel-Fattah, who was detained for two months in 2011 on separate but was released without charge, says that evidence of his incitement during interrogations included messages by someone else that merely appeared on his Twitter account.
Karim el-Shaer, another prominent blogger, said that he called for marches but emphasized that protesters should be unarmed. He says the prosecutions are intended to intimidate activists prior to June 30, the anniversary of Morsi's assumption of office, when the opposition hopes to stage a new round of street protests
El-Shaer said he will not go to court because he doesn't recognize the prosecutor general. Morsi's appointment of Abdullah sparked a confrontation between the presidency and the judiciary, with a court ruling it to be illegal.
The prosecutor general could not immediately be reached for comment on the case.