Egypt’s Morsi defiant in first public appearance since July ouster


McClatchy Foreign Staff

Ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi on Monday made his first public appearance since he was forced from office four months ago, loudly proclaiming at a court hearing that he remains the country’s duly elected leader and rejecting the criminal charges lodged against him as an effort to cover up a military coup.

“It is sad that the great Egyptian judiciary serves as a cover for the military coup,” Morsi said as he entered the courtroom, where he was greeted with applause by the 14 other defendants. All face charges of inciting violence that stem from the deaths of 10 people during clashes between pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrators outside the presidential palace last December.

Morsi and the other defendants chanted “down, down, with military rule” and repeatedly disrupted the hearing, leading the judge, Ahmed Sabry Youssef, to adjourn it until Jan. 8.

The hearing, which wasn’t televised live, was at Cairo’s Police Academy, the same place where Morsi’s predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, was tried. A crowd of pro-Morsi demonstrators gathered outside the location, at one point besieging a van carrying a journalist. Police firing tear gas eventually dispersed the demonstrators.

Morsi, whom Egyptians had last seen during a televised speech hours before his military bodyguards took him into custody July 3, appeared healthy. He wore an open-neck light blue shirt and a dark suit.

How he was dressed had been a point of contention that delayed the hearing. The judge had ordered that the former president wear a prison uniform for the hearing. But Morsi, consistent with his insistence that he remains Egypt’s elected president, refused.

He maintained that attitude in the courtroom, as well. When the judge called his name to answer to the charges against him, Morsi loudly declared his defiance.

“I am Dr. Mohammed Morsi, the president of the republic,” he said. “The coup is a crime and treasonous. I am here by force, and I reject this trial because it is operating under an invalid constitution.”

When the judge asked Morsi whether he agreed to be represented by a lawyer who was present in the courtroom, Morsi responded. “With all due respect, this is not a court,” he said.

He continued, “This is a military coup. I am the president of the state. I am held against my will. A coup is treasonous and a crime. I am the president.”

After Morsi spoke, a fight erupted between his supporters and opponents among lawyers and journalists in the courtroom. The judge then suspended the session because of the outbursts.

The raucous nature of the hearing was hardly a surprise. Although millions of Egyptians poured into the streets last summer demanding his ouster, Morsi’s supporters have insisted since his removal from office that he remains the legitimate leader. In the months since he was detained, as many as 1,300 people – most of them members of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood or supporters – have been killed in violent clashes with security forces and backers of the military’s assumption of power.

The crackdown on the Brotherhood and the criminal charges against Morsi and his 14 co-defendants, all senior Brotherhood leaders, have alarmed human rights advocates, who’ve said that Morsi’s appearance before a court is a crucial step toward reassuring his supporters that he’s well.

But the prospect of sparking more violence was clearly a concern for the military-led government, which called out 20,000 police officers and security troops to keep order and stationed tanks near key government buildings. Only a few hundred pro-Morsi demonstrators dared to venture out in front of the trial venue, illustrating the toll the government’s crackdown has taken on the Brotherhood, which could rally tens of thousands to its cause only a year ago.

Security in the courtroom was tight. Journalists permitted to attend the session weren’t allowed to bring cameras or recording devices. State television later played only brief video clips, one that showed Morsi stepping from a police van and another of him entering the courtroom to the applause of his co-defendants.

Morsi and the other defendants apparently hadn’t met the lawyers who’d represent them before the hearing Monday, but the judge said the defendants would be able to consult with their attorneys later.

“If the law is implemented correctly, he is going to be acquitted.” said Baha Abdel Rahman, a lawyer who was assigned to Morsi co-defendant Essam el-Erian, the vice chairman of the Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party.

Morsi was flown by a military helicopter from the secret place where he’d been held to the Police Academy, in the eastern outskirts of the capital. After the hearing adjourned, Morsi was flown to the Bourg el-Arab prison near Alexandria, while his co-defendants were taken to a prison in the capital.

If convicted, Morsi could face the death penalty.

Ismail is a McClatchy special correspondent.

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  • Nearly 3 million Syrian children not in school

    Nearly three million Syrian children are not attending school due to the war raging in their country, an international charity group said Thursday.

In this Feb. 4, 2013 photo, Ilham Tohti, an outspoken scholar of China's Turkic Uighur ethnic minority, speaks during an interview at his home in Beijing, China. Tohti was set to go on trial on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014 on separatism charges in the country's far western region of Xinjiang.

    Minority scholar denies separatism at China trial

    A Muslim Uighur scholar accused of separatism sought to show Thursday that his writings and classroom lectures, including rhetoric saying Chinese are dragons and Uighurs are wolves, were not a campaign to split his native Xinjiang region from China.

The historical kilt and outfit of Scottish independence referendum Yes campaign supporter and member of a Scottish historical re-enactment group Ed Hastings  are seen as he chats to people on Calton Hill, in Edinburgh, Scotland, Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014.  The two sides in Scotland's independence debate scrambled Tuesday to convert undecided voters, with just two days to go until a referendum on separation.  The pitch of the debate has grown increasingly urgent. Anti-independence campaigners argue that separation could send the economy into a tailspin, while the Yes side accuses its foes of scaremongering.

    A guide to Scotland as independence vote nears

    The people of Scotland will decide on Thursday whether to end a partnership with the rest of the United Kingdom that has lasted more than 300 years. Here is a guide to Scotland as the historic vote nears.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category