In court, defiant Morsi says he is still Egypt's president

2013-11-04 13:05

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Cairo – Ousted Egyptian leader Mohamed Morsi struck a defiant tone on the first day of his trial today, chanting ‘Down with military rule’, and calling himself the country’s only ‘legitimate’ president.

Morsi, an Islamist who was toppled by the army in July after mass protests against him, appeared angry and interrupted the session repeatedly, prompting a judge to adjourn the case.

Opponents of Egypt’s army-backed government say the trial is part of a campaign to crush Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement and revive a police state.

It is the second time in just over two years that an overthrown president has been in court in Egypt, a nation said by government critics to have reverted to authoritarian rule.

The trial is not being aired on state television and journalists were barred from bringing their telephones into the courtroom set up in a Cairo police academy.

Morsi, dressed in a blue suit and held in a cage, made a Brotherhood hand gesture to express his disgust at a crackdown on a protest camp that was razed by security forces in August.

“This trial is illegitimate,” said Morsi, prompting the judge to adjourn the session. Proceedings are expected to resume later today.

The now-banned Muslim Brotherhood has said it will not abandon the street protests it has staged to pressure the army to reinstate him.

But a heavy security presence across the country served as a reminder of a crackdown in which hundreds of Morsi supporters were killed and thousands more rounded up.

The uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011 had raised hopes that Egypt would embrace democracy and human rights and eventually enjoy economic prosperity.

Instead, the power struggle between the Brotherhood and the army-backed government has created more uncertainty in the US-allied country of 85 million, which has a peace treaty with Israel and controls the Suez Canal, a vital global trade route.

The trial of Morsi is likely to be the next flashpoint in their confrontation, which has hammered tourism and investment.

He and 14 other Islamists face charges of inciting violence relating to the deaths of about a dozen people in clashes outside the presidential palace in December after Morsi enraged his opponents with a decree expanding his powers.

The defendants could face a life sentence or the death penalty if found guilty.

Morsi travelled to the heavily guarded courthouse from an undisclosed location by helicopter, state media said.

The trial is taking place in the same venue where Mubarak has also been facing trial for complicity in killing protesters.

Hundreds of Morsi supporters gathered outside the building to pledge their support for him. One sign read “The will of the people has been raped”, a reference to the army takeover.

Tahrir Square, where Egyptian protesters had gathered during the uprising against Mubarak, and later Morsi, was sealed off by army personnel carriers and barbed wire.

Traffic was light in the usually bustling Cairo, suggesting many stayed home for fear of violence.

The Brotherhood had won every election since Mubarak’s fall and eventually propelled Morsi into power after the movement endured repression under one dictator after another.

But millions of Egyptians who grew disillusioned with Morsi’s troubled one-year rule took to the streets this summer to demand his resignation. They accused Morsi of usurping power and mismanaging the economy, allegations he denied.

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