In Egypt, A New Courtroom Drama Every Day : Parallels Two ousted presidents, journalists and many activists are all on trial in the overburdened court system. Many cases stem from the country's political turmoil and there's no guarantee of a fair trial.
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In Egypt, A New Courtroom Drama Every Day

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In Egypt, A New Courtroom Drama Every Day

In Egypt, A New Courtroom Drama Every Day

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm David Greene.

In Egypt, there is one thing hasn't changed in the three years since leader Hosni Mubarak was ousted: There's still no guarantee of a fair trial.

The country has some pretty high-profile defendants these days. There is Mubarak himself - he's out on bail - and there's also his elected successor, former president Mohammed Morsi, from the Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Morsi is regularly hauled from jail to court where he's exhibited in a glass cage. NPR's Leila Fadel reports that cages are part of the ritual in Egyptian courts.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: It was the kind of reversal of fortune you read about in novels: the first freely-elected president in Egyptian history is abruptly ousted in a military coup and held incommunicado for weeks, only to reappear in court wearing a prison jumpsuit in a glass-covered cage.

Former leader Mohamed Morsi faces charges related to murder, inciting violence, spying, a prison break, and insulting the judiciary. The images and videos that come out of the courtroom are carefully chosen by the military-backed rulers.


MOHAMMED MORSI: (Shouting in foreign language)

FADEL: In a rare un-muted clip from the courtroom, Morsi appears bewildered as he looks around the prosecution cage. Where am I? Who are you? he yells.

Unlike the original case against former dictator Hosni Mubarak, Morsi's hearings are not aired live and only snippets of the courtroom drama reach the public. The cage is present in every Egyptian courtroom and sometimes defendants have used them as a soapbox. Al-Qaida leader Ayman Zawahiri famously lectured the court during a mass trial of Islamists in 1982, and that tradition continues.

Critics say the original enemies of Egypt's revolution, Mubarak, the police and beneficiaries of the past regime, are largely getting off. It is an indication of a politicized system that does the bidding of the people in power. And analysts say it's always been like this.

Amr Shalakany is an associate professor of law at the American University in Cairo.

AMR SHALAKANY: The joke in Arabic is that the public prosecutor is not a public prosecutor, he's a private prosecutor for whoever is holding the presidency in the country.

FADEL: And right now it's the military that is in control.

Nathan Brown, an Egypt expert at George Washington University, says it's not that these are kangaroo courts, it's that the cases are reflecting the widespread demonization of the Muslim Brotherhood, now deemed a terrorist organization in Egypt.

NATHAN BROWN: I think any judiciary in any country would have trouble functioning in the kind of political atmosphere that exists in Egypt right now - it's really kind of a panic atmosphere, so I would compare it, say, to the McCarthy period here in the United States. You don't expect courts to really be able to stand up against a public wave. In a sense what they're doing is joining that wave.

FADEL: On the streets of the capital, that's evident. Ahmed Ismail stands outside his hardware store in suburban Cairo.

AHMED ISMAIL: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: He says, I don't care if Mubarak is released or not. I just want Morsi and his group to pay.

But others feel the trials just mean more days of instability.

BESHOR MESEEHA: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Beshor Meseeha, a water pump importer, says it's a never-ending game as the ball of power bounces from one place to the next.

MESEEHA: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: He says someone will take control of the country for a while and arrest people and try people from the past and then someone new comes. The trials go on but the people get nothing while the economy and his business get worse.

MESEEHA: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: He says try the former leaders but off in the desert away from us so we can get on with our lives.

Meanwhile these prominent trials are only part of Egypt's overloaded court system. Away from the cameras, dozens of ordinary people are facing politically motivated charges almost every day.

Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.

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