Trial Of Ousted President Morsi Gets Off To A Hectic Start In Egypt

There were chaotic scenes in a Cairo courtroom Monday at the start of the trial of former president Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected leader who was ousted by the military in July.

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The ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi made a brief appearance in court today. He refused to wear the requisite white prison jump suit. And he declared his trial illegitimate, insisting that he is the president of Egypt and the victim of a coup. The session was so chaotic that the judge adjourned the trial until January. Morsi was transferred to a prison outside the port city of Alexandria.

NPR's Leila Fadel attended the trial.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Morsi hadn't been seen or heard in public since the July 3rd military coup. But on Monday, he strutted into the prosecution cage of a Cairo courtroom, dressed in a suit and no tie, to the applause of his fellow defendants and cheers from his defense lawyers. When the judge asked him to identify himself, the ousted leader defiantly declared: My name is Dr. Mohamed Morsi and I am the president of the Republic.

Journalists were not allowed to bring recording equipment into the courtroom and only fleeting images with no sound were broadcast on State TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING PROTESTERS)

FADEL: But outside, hundreds of pro-Morsi protesters chanted his name and hurled insults at Egypt's military chief, General Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, who led the coup against Morsi after millions of Egyptians took to the streets to demand his removal.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING PROTESTERS)

FADEL: The protesters never heard Morsi's courtroom tirades. He called the court illegitimate, the coup a crime and demanded that its orchestrators be tried. Egyptian journalists and a few policemen responded with shouts of: Execution, execution, as the session descended into chaos.

When the judge called an adjournment, Ibrahim Bakry, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood defense team, said he was a bit relieved.

IBRAHIM BAKRY: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: He says the team needs time to review the case. They've had no access to the evidence. And so far, no one from the defense team has been allowed to see Morsi.

BAKRY: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Bakry says its unlikely Morsi will receive a fair trial. He alleged that the judge, Ahmed Sabry, was handpicked because he's against Morsi.

Morsi and 14 other defendants, most members of the Muslim Brotherhood, are facing an array of charges ranging from incitement to premeditated murder. The charges stem from an attack by Muslim Brotherhood members on opposition protesters, outside the presidential palace in Cairo last December.

Human Rights Watch says at least eleven people were killed in those clashes, including four Brotherhood members. The rights group says dozens of anti-Morsi protesters were detained and tortured by supporters of the Brotherhood.

Morsi supporters say the trial is only focused on the alleged crimes of the Brotherhood and is ignoring the deaths of Morsi protesters in the December clashes. That, they say, is proof that the case is political.

ABDEL RAHMAN MAMDOUH: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Abdel Rahman Mamdouh says his brother, a Muslim Brotherhood member, was killed the day of those clashes. He spoke outside the courtroom today.

MAMDOUH: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: He says, I'm here to show that this is all a charade.

But lawyer Ragia Omran, disagrees.

RAGIA OMRAN: It's not political at all. This is a criminal case and it has been documented. This case has been on the ground working since the fifth of December. We have submitted complaints which are documented on the prosecution.

FADEL: In the politically charged atmosphere, most analysts agree say it will be almost impossible for Morsi to receive a fair trial. Ziad Akl, is on the staff of the Ahram Center of Political and Strategic Studies.

ZIAD AKL: This trial could hardly be objective. There's definitely a lot of political polarization, that I don't think any kind of judgment on that trial could be based merely on law.

FADEL: Morsi has become an iconic symbol for supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. But for many Egyptians the start of his trial was a moment of justice and a nation moving on.

Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.

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