Conflict & Justice

Egypt's Morsi trial: Chaos, with a drop of pandemonium


Supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi shout slogans outside the Police Academy where his trial is taking place on Nov. 4, 2013, in Cairo.


Gianluigi Guercia

CAIRO, Egypt — Egypt’s ousted President Mohamed Morsi appeared in court Monday, charged with incitement to murder.

The former president used his first public appearance in four months to insist that he remains the country’s only legitimate ruler and to condemn his judges and the military coup that had sent him to the dock.

“I am Dr. Mohamed Morsi and I am president of the republic,” he shouted from a cage in the the Cairo courtroom. 

“I am furious that the Egyptian judiciary should serve as cover for this criminal military coup.”

Proceedings repeatedly lapsed into pandemonium.

Morsi’s co-defendants chanted against the army and local journalists bellowed at the judge to "execute" the former president.

The trial was adjourned twice as the presiding judge struggled to establish order in court. It is now expected to reconvene on Jan. 8, 2014.

The delay will allow both legal teams more time to examine relative documents.

Morsi’s lawyers had complained of difficulties in accessing the information that they needed to build a defense. According to Amnesty International, Morsi’s legal representatives were only given access to the full case file on Oct. 30.

It is 7,000 pages long.

“This is not a court,” Morsi told the judge today, angry at a perceived lack of due process. “This is a coup.”

The former president was ousted in a popularly backed military takeover on July 3. He has been held at an undisclosed location for four months.

His arrest attracted widespread support. Although elected with 51.7 percent of the freest national vote in Egyptian history, Morsi’s support ebbed after he failed to meet high expectations raised by the country’s 2011 uprising, or even to achieve more moderate successes in social or economic spheres.

Morsi’s co-defendants on Monday included leading Muslim Brotherhood figure Mohamed el Beltagy and former deputy chairman of the movement’s political wing Essam el Erian. All are accused of inciting violence during bloody clashes that left 10 people dead last December.

The bloodshed began after Brotherhood supporters answered a call to defend Morsi’s Presidential Palace. Although the source of the alleged call remains unclear, Morsi’s state-appointed prosecutors will now attempt to link it directly to him.

Successful prosecution of the former president grows increasingly important for Egypt’s military-backed authorities as they seek to shift the focus back to the crimes of Morsi and his Islamist backers.

The country’s new rulers have been heavily criticized for the use of lethal force at pro-Morsi protests. More than a thousand of his supporters were killed by the security forces this summer.

Human rights advocates have repeatedly called for an investigation into the palace violence. But according to Heba Morayef, Egypt director at Human Rights Watch, Morsi’s trial is unlikely to involve the necessary investigative rigor to bring justice for all sides.

“One-sided investigations that ignore [Muslim Brotherhood] victims and fit within broader political crackdown will not bring justice or truth,” she tweeted on the eve of the trial.

Today, the streets of Cairo were heavily policed and barbed wire barricades separated a small crowd of Morsi supporters from the courtroom in Cairo's Fifth Settlement.

The atmosphere among demonstrators was one of defiance.

“Our president is holding on, and so are we,” said Atef Abdelaziz, a 34-year-old construction worker who had traveled nearly 70 miles from Fayoum to support the ousted leader.

“The ticket cost me 25LE ($3.63), that’s a lot of money where I come from, but I would have paid so much more," Abdelaziz added. "We have seen so many of our brothers die, the president is the most important thing now.”

Others spoke of their anger at the court proceedings, saying they considered them illegitimate.

“This is is a show trial, not the real thing,” said Ahmed Soliman, a teacher from Cairo. “But we expect nothing less. Egyptian judges cannot be trusted.”

Morsi has few friends within the judiciary. He repeatedly clashed with Egypt’s judges during his year in office, pushing the rift beyond repair in November 2012 when he issued a decree granting himself the extrajudicial powers needed to push through a new constitution.

A small number of demonstrators also turned out to endorse today’s proceedings.

High school student Michael Boutros said he had been injured during the Palace violence last year, and that he was pleased the former president was finally on trial.

“I've come here to show that I trust Egypt's judges and its justice system,” he said. “I've come to say that Morsi is guilty.”

But others outside the courtroom spoke of their disillusionment with both Morsi and the military-backed authorities that have replaced him.

“This is not a situation that God would approve of,” said Amr Ahmed, leaning against the minibus he had used to transport Morsi supporters to the courtroom. “They keep talking politics, but I am sick of it. I just want to eat."

Like millions of Egyptians, Amr said he was now struggling to make ends meet as ongoing political instability keeps the Egyptian economy weak."

"Morsi could not put bread on the table, neither can Sisi," he said. "I’m fed up of this circus.”