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First session in Morsi's trial passes without major clashes

Morsi tells judge ‘I am the legitimate president’ at his first public appearance since July; Trial adjourned until January; Ousted Egyptian president sent to Borg Al-Arab prison

Yasmine Fathy, Salma Shukrallah, Ahram Online, Monday 4 Nov 2013
Mohamed Morsi
This image made from video broadcast on Egyptian State Television shows ousted President Mohamed Morsi, center, arriving for a court hearing at a police academy compound in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 4, 2013 (Photo: AP)
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As the sun rose on Cairo Monday morning, Egyptians across the country held their breath, bracing for anticipated clashes.

The trial of ousted president Mohamed Morsi was set to start at 10am at the Police Academy on the outskirts of Cairo.

Morsi was due to make his first public appearance since his ouster by the military in July following mass demonstrations, and his supporters had vowed to hold nationwide protests.

Hours before the trial was set to start, media vans and reporters filled the area outside the academy. A few dozen Morsi supporters were present at the scene. As the day progressed, their numbers slowly increased to a few hundred, a far cry from the million strong protests Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood had threatened would make their presence felt.

"The numbers are low because the media and the Egyptian intelligence services confused his supporters," says Mounir Abdallah, a pro-Morsi demonstrator. "At first, they said that he would be tried in a court near Tora Prison, where he is being held."

Indeed, it was very late on Sunday night that an appellate court announced that Morsi would be tried at the Police Academy, the same venue where his predecessor Hosni Mubarak was tried following the 2011 uprising that deposed him. The building is located in the upmarket outer suburbs of Cairo, an area with poor public transport links.

Ali Bakr, political analyst and Islamist movement expert at Al-Ahram's Centre for Strategic and Political Studies told Ahram Online: "The Muslim Brotherhood has lost its ability to mobilise for several reasons, including the arrest of its leadership."


Bakr added that another important reason for the failure to mobilise higher numbers was the end of the informal partnership between the Brotherhood and the Salafist movement, limiting the size of the crowds the Brotherhood was able to mobilise.

Outside the court

Despite the low turnout, Morsi's supporters remained defiant. They cheered, chanted, danced and prayed as they waited for news of the trial.

Many held banners, including the four-fingered open hand symbol used to evoke the Rabaa sit-in by Morsi supporters, which was forcibly dispersed in August leaving at least 600 dead. Others waved posters of the deposed president as they shouted their support.

"Hold on President Morsi, you have millions of martyrs," they shouted at the sky every time a helicopter flew over the building.

Most supporters, like Morsi himself, claimed that the trial was illegitimate and unjust.

"He was naïve. He should have purged the police force and the army, but he didn't, said protester Mohamed Atef. "And because of this, he is in prison."

In the last few weeks, several human rights groups have questioned the legitimacy of the trial and supporters of the president echoed these concerns.

"What exactly is he being tried for?" asked Salem Mohamed. "How can they accuse him of inciting violence when most of those who died that day were Brotherhood members?"

Morsi and his co-defendants are charged with incitement of murder and violence in December 2012 clashes outside Cairo's presidential palace. 

Civil rights lawyer, Sayed Abu Zeid, who was appointed by the Journalists' Syndicate, requested the court apply the maximum penalty on the ousted leader and his co-defendants, seeking retribution for a journalist killed in December's violence.

El-Husseini Abu-Deif was killed in clashes after thousands took to the streets in protest over a constitutional decree granting Morsi sweeping powers last year. Nine others were also killed.

Morsi's supporters, however, say most of those slain at the clashes belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood.

"All those who died are members of the Brotherhood. I was in the morgue where the bodies were transported that day. I saw who was there," said Abdel Rahman El-Husseiny, who claimed to be the brother of Mohamed, a 33 year-old protester shot dead in the clashes.

El-Husseiny says that his brother headed to the presidential palace after hearing reports that protesters were going to storm the building.

"He went there to protect the president; to protect legitimacy," he said. 

Maha Yehia told Ahram Online that it was absurd that Morsi was on trial while Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim, who was in office during the clashes, is not.

"Ibrahim is actually still in office to this day," Yehia added. "If they want justice, why try Morsi but not him?"

Alya Mohamed said that Morsi loyalists will remain behind the president until they achieve justice.

"I think if they have their way, Morsi will have two death sentences and three life sentences," joked Mohamed.

Inside the court

The judge presiding over the trial of Morsi and 14 co-defendants adjourned the trial to 8 January, to allow the prosecution and defence to examine documents.

The trial went into recess in the middle of the session due to the commotion caused by supporters and opponents of the former president inside the court room.

Defendants defied the court, chanting "down with military rule" and mocking proceedings brought against them, reported Al-Ahram's Arabic news website.

The defendants entered the court raising the pro-Morsi four-fingered salute, a symbol evoking slain pro-Morsi protesters at the Rabaa protest camp.

Morsi entered the court minutes before the commencement of the trial, in his first public appearance since his July ouster.

After defendants filed into the court's dock, leading Brotherhood members Essam El-Erian and Mohamed El-Beltagy, who had said they would defend themselves in the trial, voiced their rejection of the trial process.

El-Beltagy said there were ten legal reasons that render bringing proceedings against them by the prosecution null and void, calling the trial a "farce."

Similarly, El-Erian said that he rejected all the accusations levied against him in the indictment.

Morsi, who didn't repeat the chants with the others, stated four times that he is the legitimate president of Egypt.

He announced before the start of the trial proceedings that "what is happening now is cover for a military coup."

When called upon by the judge, Morsi said he was forcibly attending the trial which he said was a crime the court bears responsibility for. 

The 62 year-old refused to wear the defendants' obligatory white suit, and instead wore a navy blue jacket over a white shirt. Egyptian state television aired footage after the trial showing Morsi in court, although the trial itself was not aired live.

Morsi has reportedly announced that he will not recognise the authority of any courts, claiming he remains the country's legal president.

Head of the president's office under Morsi, Ahmed Abdel-Ati, also voiced his rejection of the trial, saying the indictment was brought by an illegitimate general-prosecutor.

After Morsi's ouster, Egypt's previous prosecutor general Talaat Abdallah, appointed in a controversial move by Morsi, was replaced by Judge Hesham Barakat.

Following the adjournment, fourteen of the defendants were returned to Tora Prison, close to Maadi in southern Cairo, while Morsi was flown to Alexandria's Borg Al-Arab prison.

Morsi and his co-defendants are standing trial on charges of inciting violence and murder at the Ittihadiya presidential palace clashes in December 2012.

At least ten died and 600 were injured in the clashes, which broke out after pro-Morsi protesters attacked a sit-in held by opponents of a presidential decree which had granted the Islamist leader expanded powers.

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