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The trial of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi opened today and quickly adjourned until January. Protests both inside and outside the courtroom highlighted the tensions that have wracked the country since the military removed Morsi from office in July.
The judge overseeing the trial of Mr. Morsi and 14 other members of the Muslim Brotherhood announced the trial would adjourn until Jan. 8, reports France24. Reuters reports that Morsi, during his court appearance where he refused to wear the orange jumpsuit issued to state prisoners, "appeared angry and interrupted the session repeatedly" with chants of "Down with military rule." Morsi said he was still the country's "legitimate" president.
Mursi, dressed in a blue suit and held in a cage, made a Brotherhood hand gesture to express his disgust at a crackdown on a protest camp that was razed by security forces in August.
"This trial is illegitimate," said Mursi, prompting the judge to adjourn the session.
The defendants are being tried on charges of inciting the murder of protesters in clashes between police and anti-Morsi protesters last December. At least 10 people died and hundreds more were injured in the ensuing violence. But The New York Times adds "rights advocates say the charges are selective at best."
The Times recounts the events of Dec. 5:
As increasingly aggressive protesters began encircling the [presidential] palace the previous night — even throwing Molotov cocktails over its walls — police refused to protect it. So on Dec. 5, leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood publicly called for the president’s Islamist supporters to do the job themselves, by force if necessary.
Hundreds of Islamists arrived that afternoon and forcibly evicted a small tent camp the protesters had set up near the palace and by nightfall thousands of Islamists were gathered to defend it. Thousands of Mr. Morsi’s opponents began to attack the Islamists and a night of deadly street fighting ensued, with rocks, Molotov cocktails and gunshots coming from both sides.
By morning at least 11 people were dead, including at least eight supporters of the president and at least three non-Islamists, according to news reports. Prosecutors have not charged anyone with responsibility for the Islamists’ deaths, and the charges against Mr. Morsi accuse him of inciting the murder of three non-Islamists.
The Times adds that Morsi's supporters went on to beat and detain anti-Morsi protesters, and turned them over to prosecutors to be charged. But the prosecutors immediately released the detainees, who were not charged. The Times notes that no charges have been brought against Morsi over the detentions.
Bloomberg writes that the military and its installed government are using the trial to justify the coup that toppled Morsi in July.
“The interim authorities -- the army and the interim government -- are counting on Mursi’s trial to seem more legitimate” and to “further demonize the image of Mursi’s administration,” said Ziad Akl, a senior researcher at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “Putting Mohamed Mursi in a dock in a courtroom completely defies the idea that this man may still be the president.”
But the trial is a risk for the military, as Morsi still enjoys broad support among the Brotherhood, Egypt's largest and best organized political force. Bloomberg notes that the government rolled out massive security for the trial, including some 20,000 personnel across the country, and moved the court to a police academy over security concerns. But protests outside the trial proved relatively modest, with several dozen pro-Morsi supporters making an appearance at the security barriers blocking access to the court.