Egypt’s deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, went on trial this week, but refused to recognise the court and insisted that he is still the country’s leader.
Morsi is accused of inciting murder and violence and, along with 14 other senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood, stood trial on Monday.
The case has now been adjourned until January 8, and Morsi was flown to Burj al-Arab prison in Alexandria where he will be held until the hearing resumes.
Monday’s hearing dealt specifically with the deaths of three people during street fights outside the presidential palace in December last year. Another charge – that was not addressed on Monday – was an accusation that Morsi conspired with the Palestinian group Hamas.
This is a propaganda victory ... We've seen the first democratically elected president in Egypt on trial, we've seen democracy on trial … we’ve seen the will of people on trial .... Today Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the military junta are sending a clear message to the Egyptian people: We will not just respect your vote, we will put your vote on trial.
He is accused of giving Hamas information about the security situation during the Egyptian revolution, and helping some of its members escape from Egyptian prisons.
Morsi is also being investigated for insulting judges during his time as president, accusing them of rigging elections during Hosni Mubarak’s presidency.
But some opponents of the current government insist that the trial is an excuse to crush the Muslim Brotherhood.
“It’s clear this is an illegitimate trial,” said Abdullah el-Haddad, a spokesman of the Muslim Brotherhood. “One of the judges is actually the one who dropped Ahmad Shafiq’s case – the Mubarak right-hand – and now he is [hearing] Morsi’s case. Morsi refused to have lawyers because this is an illegitimate court.”
Morsi has come a long way – from being a jailed Brotherhood member to the presidential palace and now possibly facing the death penalty.
He rose through the ranks of the Brotherhood before becoming a member of the powerful Guidance Bureau in 1995. He was briefly jailed, and then escaped, during the 2011 revolution.
When the Brotherhood eventually decided to put forward a candidate for the presidential election, Morsi was not the party’s first choice – leading some to describe him as a ‘spare tyre’ candidate. But he overcame the odds and became Egypt’s first civilian president.
He was in power for almost one year and, in that time, he wrestled for power from the military but angered people for what was seen as overstepping his mandate.
In June, that discontent led to mass protests and, on July 3, the military removed Morsi from power and he has been in police custody ever since.
Despite broad support for Egypt’s military rulers, there are concerns that the country is moving in the wrong direction. More than 1,000 civilians have been killed in fighting with the police since July 3. And there has been a crackdown on the media, most recently with the suspension of comedian Bassem Youssef’s satirical show ‘El Bernameg’.
Egypt’s leadership has continued the widely criticised practice of putting civilians on trial in military courts.
And, recently, leaked audio tapes suggest General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is seeking immunity for the military under a new constitution.
So, what is the legal basis for prosecuting Egypt’s first democratically elected president? Will the deposed leader’s trial worsen an already tense political situation? And could the hearings lead to more violence?
To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Dareen Abu Ghaida, is joined by guests: Abdullah el-Haddad, a spokesman of the Muslim Brotherhood; Sarah Eltantawi, a fellow at the Forum Transregionale Studien at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin; and Abdullah al-Arian, an assistant professor of history at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.
“The charges that were brought against Morsi are valid … He did in fact order his supporters to shoot legitimate protesters … The context in which all of this is happening is deeply compromised for a couple of different reasons. If you’re going to charge Morsi with the killing of protesters at Ittihadiya, again, I think that was a valid charge. [But] the issue I see there is the military regime – which itself killed protesters and in fact pro-Morsi protesters at Raba -themselves are still not held accountable for those crimes. That’s where I see the compromise.”
Sarah Eltantawi, a fellow at the Forum Transregionale Studien at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin