Mohamed Morsi, overthrown as Egypt’s president in July, appears in court for the first time, denying the legitimacy of those prosecuting him.
Ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi struck a defiant tone on the first day of his trial, calling himself the country’s only “legitimate” president while asserting that those who overthrew him should face charges instead.
Morsi appeared angry and interrupted the session repeatedly, prompting a judge to eventually adjourn the trial, which had barely begun, until Jan. 8, 2014. Morsi and 14 co-defendants are accused of inciting violence and the murder of protesters outside his presidential palace in December 2012, charges that could lead to the death penalty or life in prison.
“I am Dr. Mohamed Morsi, the president of the republic… This court is illegal,” Morsi told the opening hearing of his trial. He also slammed the army’s July 3 coup against him, which occurred after mass protests against his single year of turbulent rule.
“This was a military coup. The leaders of the coup should be tried. A coup is treason and a crime,” he said.
Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, had been held at an undisclosed location since the military ousted him in a coup on July 3. Hundreds of his supporters gathered outside the court building in Cairo. One sign read “The will of the people has been raped,” a reference to the army takeover. Thousands also protested in front of the Constitutional Court in the south of the capital.
Security forces completely closed Nahda Square, site of a bloody crackdown on Morsi supporters in August, and Cairo University, while military vehicles guarded police stations. The authorities deployed 20,000 policemen for the trial, and warned they were ready to deal with any violence.
Looking healthy, Morsi appeared in court wearing a dark blue suit, but no tie. He had refused to wear a prison uniform as the judge had ordered, according to security officials. As he walked in, two of his co-defendants, senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders, Essam al-Erian and Mohammed al-Beltagui, chanted “Down with military rule” while applauding Morsi.
Rabia salute from Morsi
The trial was not aired on state television and journalists were barred from bringing their telephones into the courtroom set up in a Cairo police academy. During his appearance, Morsi made a four-finger Rabia salute commemorating the hundreds of brotherhood protesters killed and injured when security forces violently dispersed a sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya Sqaure in August. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğansaid Nov. 3 that the Rabia salute does not belong only to Egyptian people but was rather a sign of “stop to injustices” all over the world.
Yesterday’s session reflected the highly charged atmosphere of a nation deeply polarized between Morsi’s Islamist supporters, and the military-backed administration and moderate Egyptians. The start of the hearing was delayed by nearly two hours over what the officials said was a dispute over Morsi’s refusal to wear the prison uniform, part of his rejection of the trial’s legitimacy.
The judge, Ahmed Sabry Youssef, had to adjourn the hearing twice because the chants disrupted the proceedings. The proceedings were adjourned until next year to allow defense lawyers to review documents. Defense lawyers said the judge has ruled that they have access to their clients in prison.
It was not immediately clear where Morsi was taken after the adjournment. State TV initially reported he was to be transferred to the main prison in Cairo where his co-defendants are being held. But it later reported he was being taken to a prison in the desert near Alexandria.
The military says it removed Morsi only after the public turned against him with protests by millions demanding his removal, accusing him and the brotherhood of trying to subvert the law and impose their will on the country. Morsi’s supporters accuse the military of crushing Egypt’s nascent democracy by overturning the results of multiple elections won by the Islamists since the ouster in 2011 of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising.