‘I am the President of the republic, you have no right to conduct trial into presidential matters’

High drama gripped the commencement of trial on Monday of deposed President Mohamed Morsy—the second Egyptian head of state who has been hauled into the courtroom, following a stunning uprising, which has morphed into a political contest between hardened Islamists and a secular military.

Mr. Morsy’s trial was quickly suspended after the ousted President was helicoptered into the police academy auditorium—the venue of the trial. Ironically, this is also the courtroom where former President Hosni Mubarak who was toppled by a popular revolt in February 2011 has been making his appearances. The judge twice paused the trial, when the defendants, reportedly chanted slogans slamming the proceedings as a sham. The trial was then adjourned to January 8, in order to give defence attorneys time to study documents.

There were conflicting reports on whether Mr. Morsy is being moved to South Cairo’s Tora prison or the Burj-al-Arab jail in Alexandria, Egypt’s coastal and second largest city.

Mr. Morsy demonstrated fiery defiance during his brief appearance in court, journalists allowed to witness the proceedings reported. Apparently, he refused to wear the customary white prison clothing.

Demeanour

Appearing instead in a blue suit to demonstrate a presidential demeanour, Mr. Morsy was blunt in dismissing the trial as a charade.

Asked by the judge to give out his name, the deposed President said: "I am Dr. Mohammed Morsy, the president of the republic. I am Egypt's legitimate president. You have no right to conduct a trial into presidential matters."

Removed in a military coup in July following popular anti-Islamist protests, Mr. Morsy is being tried for inciting the killings last December of at least three protesters. They were part of a larger gathering outside the presidential palace, which had been opposing the passage of decree that had significantly expanded Mr. Morsy’s powers.

The killings were a result of an escalating spiral of violence, which apparently began to rise after security forces failed to quell inflating anti-Morsy protests on December 4. In response, leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood—Mr. Morsy’s parent organisation—urged their supporters to amass at the same spot as their rivals. In the resulting street violence, during which the ranks of both sides swelled, 11 people were killed--the victims mostly succumbing to injuries that were caused by flying rock, gunshots and Molotov cocktails. The dead included eight supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In a country, which is almost evenly split between Islamists and secularists, Mr. Morsy’s backers have questioned the fairness of the trial.

The website of the daily Al Ahram is quoting Mr. Morsy’s lawyer Mohamed Selim El-Awa as saying that the authorities had allowed only a a splintered team of defence attorneys into the court.

Bias

The Freedom and Justice Party—the Brotherhood’s political wing---is alleging that out of a group of 28, only four lawyers defending Mr. Morsy and his allies are being allowed in court. Critics also point to the bias that is being shown by interim government, which has so far failed to charge those who were responsible for killing Mr. Morsy’s supporters.

Analysts say that the ongoing trial reinforces the secular military’s aspiration to turn the period of Mr. Morsy’s presidency, when the Islamists acquired center-stage, as a minor footnote in modern Egypt’s political evolution.

The on-going tussle between the Islamists and secularists has an important foreign component, bared by Mr. Morsy’s detractors, who accuse the Americans of being “soft” on the Brotherhood and its allies. On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry was in Cairo to urge Egypt not to turn its back to democracy. "History has demonstrated that democracies are more stable, viable and prosperous than any alternative," he told a news conference. "With stability comes tourism and investment, and with both come jobs.”

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