Cairo: Morsi says ‘I am president!’ as trial begins

Crowds outside the hearing in Cairo. Picture: Reuters
Crowds outside the hearing in Cairo. Picture: Reuters
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Deposed Egyptian leader Mohamed Morsi, given his first public forum since his overthrow in a trial where he could face execution, has declared he is still Egypt’s legitimate president and shouted: “Down with military rule!”

Morsi, 62, an Islamist who was toppled by the army in July after mass protests against him, spoke with anger and passion, interrupting the first day of his trial repeatedly from his cage during an unruly hearing that the judge adjourned to 8 January.

State television aired brief footage of Morsi, the first public sighting of the president since his overthrow in July. Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, had been kept in an undisclosed location since then.

“I am Dr Mohamed Morsi. I am president of the republic,” he said.

Inside the courtroom yesterday, anti-Morsi journalists chanted “execution, execution” as the deposed leader did his best to challenge the authority of the court, shouting repeatedly at the judge whose legitimacy he refused to accept.

“We are in a state, not a [military] camp. Down down with military rule,” said Morsi. “I am a witness that what is happening is a part of a military coup. I ask the Egyptian judiciary to not act as a cover for the military coup.”

The judge repeatedly asked Morsi to stop giving long speeches.

“Please answer the question, do you agree to have a lawyer representing you?” judge Ahmed Sabry said.

Opponents of Egypt’s army-backed government deride what they call a “show trial” as part of a campaign to crush Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and revive the police state of Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule that ended in a 2011 popular revolt.

Hundreds of people were killed in the months that followed Morsi’s overthrow, including hundreds shot dead by police and troops who cleared a weeks-long protest vigil by his supporters. Thousands of his followers have been rounded up.

Egypt has become fiercely divided, with state media lionising the military and police for their crackdown on “terrorists”, while the Brotherhood, once the country’s most powerful political force, has retreated to the shadows again, having already spent more than 80 years as an underground movement.

Morsi – who like many Islamists was also jailed under Mubarak – now faces charges of inciting violence that could carry the death penalty. It is the second time Egypt has put a president on trial since 2011, in the same venue – a police academy hall – where Mubarak faced retrial over his conviction for complicity in killing protesters.

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

His co-defendants applauded when Morsi arrived, and gave the Brotherhood’s four-fingered salute.

“This trial is illegitimate,” said Morsi. “This is a criminal military coup.”

Hundreds of Morsi’s supporters gathered outside the court building. One sign read: “The people’s will has been raped.”

Trial proceedings were not aired on state television and journalists were barred from bringing telephones into the courtroom.

Senior Brotherhood figures among the defendants used the chance to tell reporters they had been mistreated.

“I have been kept in my cell for 60 days,” Brotherhood leader Mohamed El-Beltagi said from inside the defendants’ cage. “I have been held under water in my cell and this has happened to other members.”

After the hearing, Morsi was taken to Borg al-Arab prison in Alexandria.

The Brotherhood has won repeated elections since Mubarak’s fall. But millions of Egyptians grew disillusioned with Morsi’s troubled one-year rule and took to the streets to demand his resignation.

They accused Morsi of usurping power and mismanaging the economy, allegations which he denied.