Deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi took a defiant stand Monday against the court on his first day on trial, saying “I am president” and characterizing the case against him as illegitimate.
Monday’s trial marked Morsi’s first public appearance since his July 3 ouster, when Egypt’s military seized control of the state amid mass protests that ended with hundreds dead and more than a thousand injured.
Morsi has been charged, along with 14 other Muslim Brotherhood leaders, with “inciting his supporters to carry out premeditated murder, and inciting the use of violence and thuggery” in relation to the deaths of 10 people in December 2012. The charge could carry a sentence of life in prison or the death penalty.
Sitting in a metal cage in the courtroom with more than a dozen other defendants, Morsi denied all charges against him, accused the military-backed government of staging a coup, and demanded his release so he could return to his role as Egypt’s leader.
“This is not a court, with respect to those who are in it,” Morsi shouted, according to NBC Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel who attended the court session. “This is not a proper court to try a president. There has been a coup, those responsible should be tried. I’m the president. I’m here by force and against my will.”
Engel reported pushing and shoving between pro-Morsi and pro-government attendees, with journalists climbing over chairs to get a closer view during the chaotic session.
A judge was forced to halt the proceedings twice when defendants started chanting and when Morsi refused to wear the mandated white prison uniform in favor of a sharp blue suit. The case was ultimately adjourned until Jan. 8. Morsi was then transferred by helicopter to Borg al-Arab prison in Alexandria.
The Muslim Brotherhood called for protests on Monday in conjunction with the trial, and Egyptian security forces deployed an estimated 20,000 security personnel to quell the unrest.
As Egypt’s first democratically-elected leader, Morsi fell out of favor with the Egyptian public during his 13-month rule. Accused of mismanaging the country and granting wide-ranging powers to himself and his Islamist regime, Morsi clung to power amid the largest-scale protests seen since the 2011 Arab Spring – until Egypt’s military, declaring authority by popular will, forcibly overthrew him.
The charges against Morsi are seen by many as politically-motivated and as an effort by the new government to confer a degree of legitimacy on its seizure of power – or an effort to crush Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement. Government forces have arrested dozens of senior Brotherhood officials since this summer’s uprising.
Secretary of State John Kerry met with Egypt’s interim president and defense minister for the first time since Morsi’s overthrow and urged the new government to promote democracy and to cease carrying out politically-motivated arrests.
“There are questions we have here and there about one thing or another,” Kerry said, urging the country to stick to its “road map” for bringing democracy back to Egypt. “I think it’s important for all of us, until proven otherwise, to accept that this is the track Egypt is on and to work to help it to be able to achieve that.” Kerry reportedly did not comment on Morsi’s trial.