What's Happening with Deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi?

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. Dueling demonstrations once again today in Cairo. Supporters of the ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi took to the streets of Egypt's capital to demand he be reinstated. Opponents of Morsi and his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood held their own rally. Egypt's military backed interim president warned both sides that anyone who turns to violence will be dealt with severely. Amid all the turmoil one question many Egyptians still have is where is Mohammed Morsi? Earlier I spoke with Ashraf Khalil in Cairo. He's the author of the book, 'Liberation Square,'  and I asked him about the former presidents whereabouts.

Ashraf Khalil: Very few people seem to know. He is in military custody in an undisclosed location. We're getting conflicting reports that prosecutors are questioning him but on different investigations so they apparently know where he is but sometimes those reports are then denied or turn out to be erroneous. The army spokesman has repeatedly refused to divulge or even hint where Morsi might be only saying that he is in a safe place and in what I thought was a lovely turn of the phrase earlier this week, he said only that Morsi is being treated like a former president.

Wermn: Mubarak, a former Egyptian president is on trial so I guess that's anybody's guess what that means. Can we assume that he is being detained though or is that not even known right now?

Khalil: I think we can absolutely assume he is being held against his will by the military. The same army spokesman just a couple of days ago objected to the use of the word detained but I'm not sure what else you would call it. He's not a volunteer and he's not a guest so yes, he's in military custody in an undisclosed location. The Brotherhood, Morsi's sort of home base organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, they are kind of playing a guessing game as to where he is and if they think he's being held in a particular base that place becomes a flash point for protests. So it's understandable why they're not telling us where he is but it's also becoming problematic as the length of his detention, we're now into the third week, without charges. International figures, foreign governments, are starting to say you guys need to charge him or release him at some point.

Werman: Right. So the longer Morsi stays in custody, in detention, what's at risk? What's at stake?

Khalil: Well, I would imagine the worst case scenario for this very fragile transitional government that is trying to go about it's business and look normal is that Morsi comes to be regarded as a political prisoner, as a prisoner of conscious, and we seem to be moving towards that. Just the other day the German ambassador here in Cairo reiterated his government's stance that Morsi should be released. The European Union foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, came to town and flat out said he should be released and that she was disappointed that she was not allowed to meet with him. So this is going to become a larger and larger problem the longer this goes without him being charged with something. And that's why you're seeing from the prosecutor's office this kind of slightly frantic effort to find something to pin on him. There's all of these kind of amorphous investigations going on and I think they're trying to head off this potential shift in perception on Morsi and change of a potential political prisoner to an actual criminal prisoner I suppose.

Werman: Regardless of political orientation, how do Egyptians generally feel about Morsi's detention and unknown whereabouts? I mean is there a feeling as days go on that he should be released?

Khalil: Outside of the Muslim Brotherhood and their loyalists, you're not going to find that many people that are saying, "Oh, no, we should let him go." That's not really an issue right now. It's not a right and wrong situation. It's a deeply polarized zero sum game.

Werman: Journalist and author Ashraf Khalil with Time magazine speaking with us from Cairo. Great to have you on the show. Thank you.

Khalil: Thank you very much.