Egypt's ousted president Morsi goes on trial
CAIRO - Egypt's deposed Islamist president went on trial on charges of incitement of violence and murder on Monday after being brought from the secret location of his four-month detention. It was Mohammed Morsi's first public appearance since his ouster in a coup on July 3.
If convicted, Morsi — Egypt's first freely elected president — could face the death penalty.
Since his ouster, Morsi has been held at a secret military location. He was flown Monday to the venue of his trial — a police academy in an eastern Cairo district — by helicopter, according to Egypt's official MENA news agency. His co-defendants, 14 senior members of his Muslim Brotherhood, were taken to the venue from their jail in a suburb south of the city in armored police cars.
The trial is fraught with risks and comes amid a highly charged atmosphere in a bitterly polarized nation, with a deepening schism between Morsi's Islamist supporters in one hand and Egypt's security establishment and the nation's moderate Muslims, secularists, Christians and women on the other.
In a last-minute change, authorities on Sunday switched the trial's venue in a move apparently aimed at thwarting mass rallies planned by the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which Morsi hails.
Security was tight around the trial's venue, with hundreds of black-clad riot police backed by armored vehicles deployed around the sprawling complex. Several military armored vehicles were also deployed. The final stretch of road leading to the academy was sealed off, with only authorized personnel and accredited journalists allowed to approach the facility.
The academy is also being used for the re-trial of Morsi's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, whose 29-year regime was toppled in a 2011 popular uprising. Mubarak is charged with failing to stop the killing of some 900 protesters during the 18-day uprising.
Since his ouster in the popularly-backed coup in July, Morsi has been held at a secret military location with little communication with the outside world.
Morsi is expected to use the platform to insist he is still the legitimate president of Egypt, question the trial's legitimacy and turn it into an indictment of the July coup, further energizing his supporters in the street.
During four months of detention, Morsi has been extensively questioned by prosecutors and has not been allowed to meet with lawyers. He has spoken at least twice by telephone to his family and received two foreign delegations. Brotherhood supporters have called the detention an outright kidnapping, and Morsi has refused to cooperate with his interrogators.
Morsi will face charges along with 14 other Brotherhood figures and allies — including top leaders Mohammed el-Beltagy and Essam el-Erian — in connection to clashes last December outside his presidential palace that left at least 10 dead.
In those riots, Morsi supporters set upon peaceful protesters camped outside the Cairo palace. Day-long clashes followed and video clips posted on social networks showed Morsi supporters detaining and torturing opposition protesters outside the walls of the palace. The Brotherhood claims that most of the victims were Brotherhood supporters, but that assertion is disputed.
After Monday's session, Morsi is expected to be taken back to the place he has been held at, instead of being transferred to a normal prison, for fear his supporters would turn the prison surroundings into a "focal point of endless protests."
After the July coup, Egypt has witnessed one of its worst bouts of violence in decades.
On Aug. 14, security forces violently cleared protest camps set up by Morsi supporters, sparking days of unrest that left more than 1,000 dead.
Since then, violent incidents have multiplied: A suicide car bomber tried to assassinate Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim in September, and dozens of members of the security forces have been killed in a string of drive-by shootings, explosions and car bombs. Churches have been torched, and in an attack in Cairo last month, four Christian Copts and one Muslim were killed in a drive-by shooting outside a church.
Both government officials and Morsi's supporters forecast bleak scenarios for Monday, with each side accusing the other of plotting killings, including that of Morsi himself. There were no reports of violence by late morning.
A Brotherhood-led group has called for mass rallies, while the interior minister has ordered the deployment of large numbers of security forces to guard the trial venue. Ibrahim, the interior minister, has warned that any breach of security by Morsi supporters would be harshly dealt with.