Egyptian leader rose through Muslim Brotherhood’s ranks to become country’s first democratically elected president.
Egypt’s deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, has been brought from the secret location of his four-month detention to face trial on charges of incitement of violence and murder.
Moris’s appearance on Monday at a police academy in an eastern Cairo district was his first public appearance since his military-orchestrated overthrow on July 3.
If convicted, Morsi – Egypt’s first freely elected president – could face the death penalty.
|Charges against Morsi|
Since his toppling, Morsi has been held at a secret military location. He was flown on Monday to the venue of his trial by helicopter.
Morsi will face charges along with 14 other Brotherhood figures and allies – including Mohamed el-Beltagy and Essam el-Erian – in connection to clashes last December outside his presidential palace that left at least 10 dead.
His co-defendants were taken to the venue from their jail in a suburb south of Cairo in armoured police cars.
The trial is fraught with risks and comes amid a highly charged atmosphere in a bitterly polarised nation, with a deepening rift 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 location, a move apparently aimed at thwarting mass rallies planned by the Muslim Brotherhood, the group to which Morsi belongs.
Security was tight around the trial’s venue on Monday, with hundreds of black-clad riot police backed by armoured vehicles deployed around the complex. Several armoured vehicles belonging to the army were deployed too.
The final stretch of road leading to the police academy was sealed off, with only authorised personnel and accredited journalists allowed to approach the facility.
The academy is also being used for the re-trial of another former president – Hosni Mubarak – toppled in a 2011 uprising. He is accused of failing to stop the killing of protesters.
Since his overthrow, Morsi has been held at a secret military location with little communication to the outside world.
He is likely to represent himself in the trial, Brotherhood lawyers have said.
During four months of detention, Morsi has been extensively questioned and has not been allowed to meet his 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.
“The other seven, who were members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, were excluded by the prosecutor from the case … this will also be brought up in the trial,” Mohamed al-Damati, a member of the defence team, told Al Jazeera on Sunday.
Al-Damati said that Morsi refrained from answering questions during the interrogations, considering them “invalid”.
He said the defence team, which has no access to Morsi, received documents of the court case only on Saturday night, although a request had been filed more than 20 days ago.
Unlike Mubarak’s trial, the proceedings against Morsi are not likely to be aired live and Morsi will probably be taken back to the place he has been held instead of being transferred to a normal prison after the first session, for fear his supporters would turn the prison into a “focal point of endless protests”.
Outbursts of violence
After Morsi’s removal, Egypt has witnessed one of its worst outburts of violence in decades.
On August 14, security forces violently cleared protest camps set up by Morsi supporters, leading to days of unrest that left more than 1,000 dead.
Since then, violent incidents have multiplied: a suicide car bomber tried to assassinate Mohammed Ibrahim, the interior minister, 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, five Copts and one Muslim were killed in drive-by shooting at a church.
A Brotherhood-led group has called for mass rallies on Monday, while the interior minister has ordered the deployment of large numbers of security forces to guard the trial venue.
Meanwhile, a newspaper known for close ties to the military published on Sunday what appeared to be the first pictures of Morsi from his detention.
The daily El-Watan published a transcript of remarks it says were made by Morsi and captured on video, describing him as being “in total denial” and saying “I am the president of the republic, in accordance with the constitution”.
Later in the day, it posted a video showing Morsi wearing a blue track suit, sitting on a chair and speaking calmly.
The paper quoted him as saying: “I will represent myself in front of any court … I am not involved in killings of the protesters … I will tell judges that.”
A military official said the video was leaked to the paper in order to give his supporters a first glance of the former president to lessen the impact of the shock of his first public appearance.