Egypt's ousted president, Mohammed Morsi, says protests by his supporters and the violent crackdown against them are “useless” in a recording of a private conversation with one of his lawyers that was leaked by security authorities eager to show the Islamist leader in a less defiant posture.
Morsi also asked his lawyer, Mohammed Salim el-Awah, for money to be deposited in his prison account for living expenses since he is not allowed visits by friends and family, according to the recording, excerpts of which were released by the privately owned Al-Watan newspaper.
Another member of Morsi's defence team, Mohammed el-Damati, denounced the recording, calling it a violation of privacy and the Islamist leader's constitutional rights, and threatened to file a lawsuit.
Morsi was ousted by the military on July 3 following repeated demonstrations calling on him to leave office. He is now held at a high security prison near the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. His incarceration there followed four months of detention at an undisclosed location.
The leaked conversation reportedly took place on the sidelines of Morsi's trial earlier this month as he faced charges of inciting the murder of protesters during his year in power. Two security officials told The Associated Press the recording was released to show the public that Morsi knows protests will not bring him back to power. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorised to discuss the issue publicly.
Demonstrations led by the Muslim Brotherhood calling for Morsi's reinstatement have frequently led to violent clashes between his supporters and security forces. While the protests have waned as hundreds have been killed and thousands of Brotherhood leaders and supporters detained, violence has been on the rise, with an increasing number of suicide bombings, drive-by shootings, and assassinations targeting mainly security forces.
An Islamic militant group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis - Champions of Jerusalem in Arabic - has claimed responsibility for many of the attacks. But the Egyptian government accuses the Muslim Brotherhood of orchestrating a campaign of violence and branded it a terrorist organisation. The group denies the allegations.
In the recording, which was made during the week of February 1-5 and reviewed by the AP, Morsi asks his lawyer what is happening on the streets. The lawyer tells him that protests and clashes continue but are not productive and negotiations should be held.
“This is all without a result,” el-Awah said. “People must sit and talk and find a solution.”
“It's useless for the two sides,” Morsi agreed, referring to the protests and the crackdown against them. “How will we stop all the deaths? Enough deaths.”
Since his ousting, Morsi has largely been kept out of the public eye, appearing only in carefully managed court sessions in which he has frequently shouted defiantly, insisting he is still Egypt's president.
The country's first freely elected president after autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a popular uprising in February 2011, Morsi drew the ire of liberals, secular-leaning youth groups and a large sector of Egyptians who accused the Islamist leader and his Muslim Brotherhood of trying to monopolise power and failing to implement much-needed reforms.
Providing some insight into his life behind bars, Morsi asked his lawyer to deposit money in his prison account for living expenses.
“I need money in my account so I can live,” he said, proposing that the attorney ask the judge for permission to make deposits. It's not clear if El-Awah made the request in court.
Although inmates are not allowed to carry cash, their families usually deposit money in prison accounts to be exchanged for coupons to pay for their expenses. Visitors are also allowed to bring in food and clothes, but Morsi has been barred from receiving visitors since he leaked a message through his lawyers calling on supporters to challenge his ousting.
“It doesn't work that the money runs out... We have expenses,” Morsi said as the lawyer promised to find a solution, adding with a laugh: “They will not spend money on a detainee.”
One security official said that Morsi has been under constant surveillance and releasing the tape allowed the public to “see and become witness to what the lawyer and Morsi are saying”. A second official said that Morsi knew he was being taped and wanted it leaked to the authorities to show that he is open for talks.
In another part of the recording, Morsi asked if army chief General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi will be Egypt's next president. “God willing, he will be,” El-Awah answered, to which Morsi responded: “Is he not afraid of a coup?”
El-Sisi, who led Morsi's ousting, has yet to announce an official presidential bid, but the military has thrown its weight behind him. Presidential elections are expected in the spring. - Sapa-AP