Morsi defiant in brief court appearance

The New York Times reports: Held incommunicado for the four months since his overthrow as president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood walked into a makeshift courtroom on Monday for his new role as a defendant in a murder trial.

But Mr. Morsi, dressed in a blue suit, refused even to wear the usual all-white prisoner’s costume.

“I want a microphone so I can talk to you,” Mr. Morsi shouted three times from a special defendant’s cage constructed to obscure him from public view. “There is a military coup in the country,” he shouted, adding, “I am the president of the republic, according to the Constitution of the state, and I am forcibly detained!”

Repeatedly cited by the new government as evidence of its adherence to the rule of law, the trial instead threatened to embarrass its leadership, with the defendants and their lawyers seizing a rare platform to question the military takeover. Islamists around Egypt were galvanized by Mr. Morsi’s show of defiance as the judge failed to gavel him into silence and instead adjourned the trial for two months.

And the timing, analysts said, also proved awkward for Secretary of State John Kerry. On a visit to Cairo just a day before, he had said that — despite a series of mass killings of protesters, the shutdown of opposition news media outlets and apparently politicized trials like Mr. Morsi’s — “there are indications” that the generals who ousted Egypt’s first freely elected president intended to restore democracy.

The visit was “unbelievable timing,” said Michael Wahid Hanna, an Egypt scholar at the Century Foundation in New York. He argued that opponents of the Islamists would see the trip as an American effort to protect Mr. Morsi, while Islamists would hear Mr. Kerry’s “soft and optimistic statements as a U.S. blessing to the new military-led political order.”

It was the second criminal prosecution of an ousted Egyptian president in the same venue within less than three years. But in a reversal of the dynamic during the live broadcast of Hosni Mubarak’s trial in 2011, on Monday the hearing quickly devolved into a tug of war over just how much attention Mr. Morsi could receive.

“Mubarak was hiding from the cameras, and now they are hiding the cameras from Morsi,” said Emad Shahin, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo, who called the new government’s rush to trial “a miscalculation” because “this will increase the perception of him as a hero, an icon for the resistance.”

Ahmed el-Arainy, 42, a Brotherhood organizer, called the opening of the trial “a good day.”

“They just wanted to show him shaken in a cage, a defendant in prison clothes, but, God bless him, he stood in defense of his cause and not theirs,” he said. “What is on trial is the country, and its will to change,” he added. [Continue reading…]

Earlier this week, two Canadians, Toronto filmmaker John Greyson, and emergency room medical doctor Tarek Loubani, described their experiences in Egypt where they were recently released after 50 days in detention.

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