Defiant Morsi declares himself president at opening of trial

McClatchy Foreign StaffNovember 3, 2013 

— Mohammed Morsi, the Egyptian president who hadn’t been seen in public since the country’s military pushed him from office July 3, defiantly proclaimed himself Egypt's rightful president Monday at the opening session of his trial.

"What is happening is a cover for a coup," he said. The other men charged with him chanted "down, down military rule."

The opening session started late. The judge then adjourned the court until Jan. 8.

A McClatchy reporter inside the courtroom said Morsi looked healthy.

Outside, pro-Morsi demonstrators attacked a van carrying a reporter. Police dispersed the crowd with tear gas.

Cairo had prepared for trouble. On Sunday, tanks were stationed at key government locations, and 20,000 police and soldiers had been called up to secure the nation for Monday’s hearing. Some government workers did not report for duty on Sunday, a work day in Egypt, and some schools were closed. Many businesses urged their workers not to come to work Monday.

Morsi and 14 members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been charged with inciting violence during clashes late last year outside the presidential palace, during which 10 people died.

Those deaths once outraged the nation, but a new standard of violence has since set in, since the toppling of Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected leader who became widely unpopular during his year in office. At least 1,300 people have been killed since he was toppled in clashes between Morsi supporters, their opponents and security forces.

Morsi’s supporters defiantly insist he remains the legitimate leader even as the vast majority of Egyptians openly back his ouster. The man who engineered his departure from office, Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah el Sissi, remains the leading, if still undeclared, candidate to replace him in elections that have yet to be scheduled.

Morsi’s son Osama told the Associated Press Sunday that the family would not attend what it considers illegitimate proceeding. But it is unclear whether they would have been be allowed to attend without facing arrest themselves.

International rights groups demanded that Morsi appear and be allowed a lawyer.

"Tomorrow’s trial is a test for the Egyptian authorities," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa program.

The trial overshadowed Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit here as State Department officials sought to dispel reports in a government newspaper that Kerry had come to for the first time since Morsi’s ouster to stop the trial.

Instead, Kerry urged that Egypt respect the rule of law and for transparent trials without mentioning Monday’s session specifically. The military-guided transitional government named after Morsi’s ouster has conducted a harsh crackdown on journalists, anti-government activists and members of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.

“The United States believes that the U.S.-Egypt partnership is going to be strongest when Egypt is represented by an inclusive, democratically-elected, civilian government based on rule of law, fundamental freedoms, and an open and competitive economy," Kerry told reporters at a joint news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy.

Email: nyoussef@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @nancyayoussef

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