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Egypt: Mohamed Morsy trial set to start

From Ian Lee and Sarah El Sirgany, CNN
updated 4:05 AM EST, Mon November 4, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mohamed Morsy's trial could be his first public appearance in months
  • The trial is set to start four months after a military coup
  • The former president is accused of inciting violence last December
  • Analysts warn of uncertainty, possibility of fresh unrest

Cairo (CNN) -- The trial of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy is set to start on Monday, four months after a military coup removed him from power.

The closely watched trial could be the first public appearance in months for Morsy, who's been held in an undisclosed location since his ouster in July.

The former president is accused of inciting violence, and 14 other Muslim Brotherhood members are also defendants in the case.

Analysts say great uncertainty surrounds the trial, and some have expressed concerns that it could be a flashpoint that further fuels unrest.

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Morsy, who is backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, remains one of the most polarizing figures in Egypt.

He rode a wave of hope, becoming Egypt's first freely elected president, but his presidency barely lasted a year.

His supporters believed he would usher in a new Islamic era. His detractors, though, saw a tyrant wanting to impose his conservative values.

Weekly protests demanding Morsy's reinstatement still spring up around the country. As a result, hundreds have died in clashes with security forces.

Authorities have warned that they'll crack down on any violent protests tied to the trial, and security forces are expected to be out en masse as Morsy's supporters vow to take to the streets.

State media reported Sunday that Morsy's trial will be held at the Police Academy in New Cairo -- a last-minute change of venue that had defense lawyers scrambling to get courtroom permits.

But what will happen inside the courtroom is anyone's guess.

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Speculation surges over trial

Morsy could refuse legal representation, arguing against the legitimacy of the court, said lawyer Mohamed El-Damaty, who will be present in court on Monday as part of the defense team.

There are 15 defendants in this case, 11 of whom are facing charges of using force, killing three men, holding and torturing 54 people, and possession of weapons and ammunition. Morsy and four others are facing charges of incitement to these crimes.

But his case is different than the other defendants, El-Damaty told CNN.

"According to the suspended constitution, only two thirds of the parliament can refer the president to court, not the general prosecutor," El-Damaty said.

The military suspended the constitution after it removed Morsy from power in the wake of mass street demonstrations in June and July. El-Damaty hopes lawyers will be able to successfully argue for using the constitution written under and passed during Morsy's tenure.

Trial over deadly December clashes

Concerns over that constitution sparked the first mass demonstrations against Morsy on December 4.

Now, nearly a year later, the ousted president is standing trial over deadly clashes that unfolded the following night.

Egyptian authorities have accused Morsy and his staff of ordering supporters to attack protesters after guards and members of the Interior Ministry refused to do it.

Since Morsy's ouster, his supporters have accused the interim military leaders of trumping up charges against Morsy to keep him in prison.

On the eve of Morsy's trial, Amnesty International called on Egyptian authorities to ensure that the ousted president appeared in court Monday, describing his detention as an "enforced disappearance."

"Tomorrow's trial is a test for the Egyptian authorities. They should present Mohamed Morsy in court and grant him a fair trial, including the right to challenge the evidence against him in court," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa. "Failing to do so would further call into question the motives behind his trial."

Concerns about a fair trial

Morsy isn't the only former Egyptian president on trial.

Longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak also faced similar charges.

While Mubarak is facing a retrial, some worry Morsy won't get a fair shake.

"What we are worried about is a fair trial because of the political circumstances surrounding it especially with the animosity between the media and Morsy during his year in office," said lawyer Nasser Amin, head of the Arab Center of the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession.

But still, Amin, who visited Morsy while in detention, believes he'll be acquitted.

"It'll be very difficult for the public prosecution and civil plaintiffs' lawyers to prove the charges," he said.

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CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.

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