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Egyptians watch TV showing the trial of Mursi. -Reuters

In court, Mursi says still Egypt president

Cairo, November 4, 2013

Ousted Egyptian leader Mohamed Mursi struck a defiant tone on the first day of his trial on Monday, chanting 'Down with military rule', and calling himself the country's only 'legitimate' president.

Mursi, 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 eventually to adjourn the trial, which barely got underway, to Jan. 8.

Opponents of Egypt's army-backed government say the trial is part of a campaign to crush Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood movement and revive a police state reminiscent of Hosni Mubarak's three- decades of autocratic rule that ended in a 2011 popular revolt.

Mursi, 62, who broke out of jail in Mubarak's final days in power, found himself behind bars again facing charges of inciting violence that could carry the death penalty.

It is the second time in just over two years that an overthrown president has been in court in Egypt. The trial is taking place in the same venue where Mubarak has also been facing a retrial for complicity in killing protesters.

"This trial is illegitimate," said Mursi, who was dressed in a dark suit and who state media said had refused to wear prison clothes.

Mursi travelled to the heavily guarded courthouse from an undisclosed location by helicopter.

Hundreds of his supporters gathered outside the court building. One sign read "The will of the people has been raped", a reference to the army takeover.

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

SECURITY PRESENCE

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

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

During his appearance, Mursi made a Brotherhood hand gesture to express his disgust at a raid in August on a protest camp by security forces, who shot dead more than 200 people there at the height of their action against the Islamists.

Mursi 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 Mursi enraged his opponents with a decree expanding his powers.

State media said Mursi, who until today had not been seen since his ouster, would be moved to Borg al-Arab prison in Alexandria. Earlier, a security source said he would be transferred to Cairo's notorious Tora prison.

Western allies have been dismayed by the military establishment's return to the forefront of power in Cairo, prompting Washington to cut some military aid and call for free, transparent trials for all Egyptians.

The uprising that toppled 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 U.S.-allied country of 85 million, which has a peace treaty with Israel and controls the Suez Canal, a vital global trade route.

Their confrontation has hammered tourism and investment.

INCITING VIOLENCE

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

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

"We didn't see as much misery in the 30 years of Mubarak as much as we saw in one year of Mursi," said Ali, a driver who was sipping morning tea at a cafe in downtown Cairo.

"He fooled us with his year in power."

The army, saying it was responding to the will of the people, deposed Mursi and announced a political road map it said would lead to free and fair elections.

But the promises have not reassured Western allies, who had hoped the military men's grip on power would be broken.

Security forces have killed hundreds of Islamists and arrested thousands, including the Brotherhood's top leaders.

Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who toppled Mursi, is very popular. Few doubt his victory if he runs for president.

The Brotherhood maintains Mursi's removal was a coup that reversed the democratic gains made after Mubarak's overthrow.

"It is clear that the goal of this trial as well as any action against the Muslim Brotherhood is to wipe out the group as well as any Islamist movements from political life," said Mohamed Damaty, a volunteer defence lawyer for Mursi.

Egyptian officials admit the path to democracy has been rocky, but say a proper political transformation will take time. – Reuters




Tags: Egypt | Prison | Mursi | Court trial |

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