Morsi goes on trial in tense Egypt

Ousted Islamist president flown in by helicopter to trial at police academy in Cairo, as fears rise of new bloodshed following his ouster.

Supporters of Egypt’s ousted President Mohamed Morsi raise their hands in protest of his trial with four raised fingers, also known as “Rabaa”, which means four in Arabic, remembering those killed in the crackdown on the Rabaa al-Adawiya protest this year. Amr Nabil / AP Photo
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CAIRO // Egypt’s ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi went on trial today in a Cairo courthouse over protester deaths, raising fears of new bloodshed four months after the army ousted him.

Mr Morsi’s supporters, battered by a bloody and sweeping police crackdown, accuse the army-installed government of fabricating the charges and have called for protests against the military.

Mr Morsi was flown in by helicopter to the police academy in the capital where the trial is being convened, and his 14 co-defendants were also present, said Cairo security chief Osama Al Soghayar.

It was Mr Morsi’s first public appearance since the army overthrew him on July 3 after mass street protests against his single year of turbulent rule.

Judge Ahmed Sabry Youssef banned cameras and recording equipment from the courtroom, while a security official said proceedings had been delayed because Mr Morsi was not wearing the customary white prison outfit, which he later donned.

Outside the court in east Cairo, dozens of Morsi supporters brandished posters of him and signs bearing anti-military messages. Thousands also protested in front of the constitutional court in the south of the capital.

“Morsi’s trial is a facade. The criminals are trying the legitimate president,” said one Morsi supporter, Ibrahim Abdel Samd.

Tensions were also high in front of the high court in downtown Cairo where pro- and anti-Morsi supporters had gathered.

Security forces completely closed Nahda Square – site of a bloody crackdown on Morsi supporters in August – and Cairo University, while military vehicles guarded police stations.

The authorities have deployed 20,000 policemen for the trial, and say they are ready to deal with any violence.

Mr Morsi, who the army has held at a secret location since his ouster, is accused along with the other 14 of inciting the murder of protesters outside the presidential palace in December 2012.

The charges against Mr Morsi could lead to the death penalty or life in prison.

The trial is seen as a test for Egypt’s new authorities, who have come under fire for their heavy-handedness.

With more than 1,000 people killed since Mr Morsi’s overthrow and thousands of Islamists arrested, hopes for a political settlement are slim.

“Morsi’s presence in the court will definitely energise his supporters and raise possibilities of new protests and clashes,” said Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center think-tank.

Amnesty International’s Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said Mr Morsi should be granted a “fair trial, including the right to challenge the evidence against him in court”.

“Failing to do so would further call into question the motives behind his trial.”

But analysts believe the political nature of the trial will drive its outcome.

“This is first and foremost a political trial and an important one. There is zero chance of it being free and fair,” said Hamid. “The trial is a clear reminder of a polarised Egyptian society at this moment of time.”