CAIRO: Egypt’s deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was brought on Monday to a courthouse to face trial over protester deaths, raising fears of renewed violence four months after the army toppled him.
Morsi’s supporters, battered by a bloody and sweeping police crackdown, accuse the army-installed government of fabricating the charges against him and have called for protests against the military.
Morsi was flown in by helicopter to the police academy in the Egyptian capital where the trial is being convened, and 14 co-defendants were also present, said Cairo security chief Osama al-Soghayar.
“His helicopter landed . . . The others were driven to the court during curfew hours” put in place since bloody unrest in August, said another security official.
Morsi, who the army has held at a secret location since his July 3 ouster, is accused along with the other 14 of inciting the murder of protesters outside the presidential palace in December 2012.
The charges against Morsi could lead to the death penalty or life in prison.
Egypt is on high alert for the trial, with 20,000 policemen to be deployed and authorities saying they are ready to deal with any outbreak of violence.
With more than 1,000 people killed since Morsi’s overthrow and thousands of Islamists arrested, hopes for a political settlement between the Islamists and interim government are slim.
“Morsi’s presence in the court will definitely energize his supporters and raise possibilities of new protests and clashes,” said Shadi Hamid, an analyst at the Brookings Doha Center.
The trial will be seen as a test for Egypt’s new authorities, who have come under fire from rights groups for their heavy-handed approach in dealing with dissent.
“They should present Mohamed Morsi in court and grant him a fair trial, including the right to challenge the evidence against him in court,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui of human rights watchdog Amnesty International.
“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 polarized Egyptian society at this moment of time.”
‘Free and fair trial’
On the eve of the court case, foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty said Morsi would be “tried before a judge according to Egyptian penal code.”
“Nothing extraordinary, nothing exceptional. He will have rights to have a free and fair trial.”
Morsi will be tried in a police complex in east Cairo where longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak is also being prosecuted.
Morsi’s single year of stormy rule came to an abrupt end in a military overthrow after millions took to the streets to demand his resignation.
A senior leader of the influential and long-banned Muslim Brotherhood, his victory was made possible by the popular uprising of 2011 that toppled Mubarak and propelled Islamist movements to the foreground of the political arena.
His stint in power as Egypt’s first civilian democratically elected president was marred by political turmoil, deadly clashes and a crippling economic crisis.
In November 2012, Morsi issued a decree granting himself sweeping powers, prompting accusations of a power grab, as opponents accused him of failing the ideals of the revolution that ousted Mubarak.
The decree was a turning point in Morsi’s rule, launching the worst polarization in the country’s recent history.
A month later, deadly clashes erupted outside the presidential palace between supporters and opponents of the Islamist leader. Morsi is facing allegations of inciting that violence.
Accusing police of failing to protect the president, the Brotherhood called on its supporters to confront the protesters. At least seven people were killed in the clashes that erupted on December 5 last year.
According to relatives and the few officials who were given access to him since his detention, Morsi remains defiant.
Unlike his predecessor Mubarak, also on trial facing similar charges, he will not cooperate with the court, said the Islamist Anti-Coup Alliance backing Morsi.
The deposed president “does not recognize the authority of the court,” it said in a statement.
His lawyers will attend the hearing only as observers, it added.