x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Morsi supporters plan protests as trial starts

Authorities switch trial venue after Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood calls for mass demonstrations at the original location.

CAIRO // Egypt’s new military-backed government had hoped that trying Mohammed Morsi would close the chapter on his presidency. Instead, the trial of the ousted Islamist president on charges of inciting murder, which begins today, is only compounding their troubles.

Authorities switched the venue for the trial yesterday, a last-minute change made after the Muslim Brotherhood called for mass demonstrations at the original location.

The trial will now be held at a heavily-fortified police academy in eastern Cairo that has already served as a courthouse for the trial of another former president, Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled in a 2011 uprising.

The change in venue was announced by the appeals court judge Medhat Idris, who also said that, unlike Mr Mubarak’s trial, the hearing would not be televised live.

Mr Morsi’s trial also raises the political risk of his anticipated first public appearance since the military deposed him on July 3 and kept him in secret detention, virtually incommunicado.

Mr Morsi is expected to represent himself in the trial, the first public figure to do so in the host of trials of politicians since Hosni Mubarak was deposed in 2011.

Lawyers for the Brotherhood say he will use the platform to insist he is still the true president, question the trial’s legitimacy and turn it into an indictment of the coup, further energising his supporters in the street.

If Mr Morsi is not brought to court at all, his absence will raise further questions about the fairness of the trial. The Brotherhood has denounced the trial as a farce aimed at political revenge.

During four months of detention in undisclosed military facilities, Mr Morsi has been extensively questioned and has not been allowed to meet lawyers. Virtually his only contact with the outside world was two phone calls with his family. Mr Morsi has refused to cooperate with his interrogators.

Rights groups say the first test in the trial will be if the judge rules whether Mr Morsi should be brought out of secret detention and moved to a regular prison during the trial. Authorities have said military detention is necessary for security reasons in the country’s turmoil.

Further weighing on the trial’s fairness, Mr Morsi will be tried in a judicial system stacked with his adversaries, with whom he clashed repeatedly during his year-long presidency. Rights activists – even ones who believe Mr Morsi should be tried for abuses during his presidency – fear the proceedings are more concerned with retribution than justice.

Nasser Amin, a member of the National Council for Human Rights and director of the Arab Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary, said the trials of both Mr Morsi and Hosni Mubarak are “a first step in establishing for the rule of law. The head of the state, even an elected one, can be tried”.

* Associated Press