Cairo (AFP) – Egypt’s deposed president Mohamed Morsi appeared in court Monday on the first day of his trial for incitement to murder, rejecting its legitimacy and demanding “coup” leaders be prosecuted.
In his first public appearance since the military toppled him in July, Morsi was indignant and outraged as he attended the courtroom at a police academy in east Cairo. The trial was adjourned to January 8.
Monday’s hearing lasted nearly three hours and the judge heard requests from the defendants’ lawyers, who demanded to see all the case files and be allowed to meet their clients privately.
After that Morsi, who had been kept in secret detention since July, was flown to the Borg al-Arab prison outside the second city of Alexandria.
Morsi and 14 co-defendants are accused of inciting violence and the murder of protesters outside his presidential palace in December, 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 court.
The Islamist leader was branded as criminal following his overthrow by the army on July 3 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 argue.
Morsi, wearing a dark blue suit, was brought to court by helicopter that touched down nearby and then driven to the heavily fortified police academy.
State television aired footage showing Morsi smiling as he stepped out of a white van, buttoning his blue blazer and entering the dock to applause from fellow defendants dressed in white prison uniforms.
Muslim Brotherhood co-defendants Essam al-Erian and Mohammed al-Beltagui chanted “Down with military rule” at the hearing.
Judge Ahmed Sabry Youssef banned cameras and recording equipment from the courtroom.
Morsi’s supporters, battered by a bloody and sweeping police crackdown, accuse the army-installed government of fabricating the charges against him.
They held anti-military rallies across Cairo, including outside the police academy where dozens brandished posters of Morsi and signs bearing anti-military messages. Thousands also protested in front of the constitutional court.
“Morsi’s trial is a farce. The criminals are trying the legitimate president,” supporter Ibrahim Abdel Samd said.
Tensions was also high in front of the high court in downtown Cairo where pro- and anti-Morsi supporters gathered.
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.
Morsi’s trial is seen as a test for Egypt’s new authorities, who have come under fire for their heavy-handedness.
With more than 1,000 people killed since Morsi’s overthrow and thousands of Islamists arrested, hopes for a political settlement are slim in Egypt.
“Morsi’s presence in the court will definitely energise his supporters and raise possibilities of new protests and clashes,” said Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center think-tank.
Amnesty International said Morsi should be granted a fair trial, including the right to challenge evidence against him.
“Failing to do so would further call into question the motives behind his trial,” said the watchdog’s Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
But analysts believe the political nature of the trial will drive its outcome.
“This is first and foremost a political trial and an important one. There is zero chance of it being free and fair,” said Hamid.
On the eve of the hearing, foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty said Morsi “will have rights to a free and fair trial”
Morsi was catapulted from the underground offices of the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood to become Egypt’s first democratically elected president in June 2012.
His victory was made possible by the 2011 uprising that toppled autocratic president Hosni Mubarak.
But his stint at the helm was marred by political turmoil, deadly clashes and a crippling economic crisis.
In November 2012, Morsi decreed himself sweeping powers, prompting opponents to accuse him of failing the ideals of the revolution.
It was a turning-point that launched the worst polarisation in Egypt’s recent history.
A month later, deadly clashes erupted outside the presidential palace between his supporters and opponents in which at least seven people were killed.