Why deposed Egypt president Morsi's trial is so important

CAIRO -- Former Egyptian president
Mohammed Morsi goes on trial
Monday , four months after being
ousted in a popularly-backed coup. He
is accused of inciting the murder of
anti-government protesters who
gathered outside his palace in Cairo
last December.
Morsi’s fall from grace has taken place
at astonishing speed. Until early July,
his Muslim Brotherhood was one of
the most powerful political forces in
the country, dominating ministry posts
and the assembly responsible for
drafting Egypt ’s post-revolution
constitution. Today, the movement’s
ranks have been decimated by a
bloody crackdown and mass arrests.
Court proceedings involving a number
of other senior Brotherhood figures
have already begun. However,
Monday’s event is the one that Egypt
has been waiting for.
The trial takes place amid heightened
security and clashes outside the
courtroom are likely. While Morsi
supporters are vowing to rally in
support of their leader, Egypt’s interior
ministry has promised to deploy up to
20,000 policemen around the
courthouse.
So how did Egypt get here? Here's the
background and why Morsi’s trial is so
important.
Just over a year after he was
elected through a popular majority,
why is Mohammed Morsi on trial?
What is he accused of?
Morsi was ousted in a July 3 military
coup, following a single, disastrous
year in office. Today, he will stand trial
along with 14 others, including
members of the Muslim Brotherhood-
affiliated Freedom and Justice Party.
The coup took place after Egypt’s
military sided with millions of
protesters and stepped in to arrest
Morsi. He has been held in
incommunicado detention for four
months.
His arrest attracted widespread
support. Although elected with 51.7
percent of the freest national vote in
Egyptian history, Morsi’s support
ebbed away after he failed to meet high
expectations raised by the country’s
2011 uprising, or even to achieve
more moderate successes in social or
economic spheres. Crucially, Egypt’s
economy continued to nosedive,
precipitating food and fuel crises
across the Arab world’s most populous
nation. Despite initial signs of a desire
to bring the country’s hated interior
ministry to heel, it remained
unreformed. Protests continued to be
crushed by lethal force, while arbitrary
arrests and abuse in custody also
remained frequent.
Morsi’s prosecution now forms a vital
piece in the jigsaw of legitimacy that
Egypt’s military and interim
government are piecing together in the
wake of the coup. The former
president is charged with incitement to
murder and the violent break-up of a
peaceful protest. The charges relate to
bloody clashes which took place
outside the Presidential Palace on
December 5 and 6 last year. Anti-
government protesters had gathered
outside the facility, protesting against a
presidential decree handing Morsi
extrajudicial powers and allowing him
to push through a constitution drawn
up by an Islamist-dominated assembly.
After Muslim Brotherhood supporters
responded to a call to defend the
palace, at least 10 people were killed.
The origins of the call to protect the
palace remain unclear, but the
prosecution will want to trace it back
to Morsi.
The former president also faces
separate charges of helping a number
of prisoners break out of Wadi
Natroun prison during Egypt’s 2011
revolution.
Where has Morsi been?
Morsi has not been seen since July 2,
when he gave a televised speech in the
final hours of his presidency. Since
then, he has been held at an
undisclosed location with limited
access to his lawyers. According to
rights group Amnesty International, his
conditions “amount to enforced
disappearance.”
Local media reports suggest that Morsi
has refused to cooperate with his
investigators, who have grilled him on
his role in a number of events that
took place during his presidency.
The Egyptian authorities will try to
ensure that minimal footage emerges
from the courtroom. Television
cameras have been banned and
journalists are not even allowed to take
their cell phones inside.
Why is the trial important?
After hundreds of Morsi supporters
were killed on the orders of Egypt’s
new leaders this summer, the military-
backed authorities are now seeking to
shift the focus back to the crimes of
the Brotherhood.
The worst single incident of violence
this summer took place on August 14
when security forces forcibly dispersed
a thousands-strong pro-Morsi
encampment in Cairo. Over 1,000
people were killed nationwide that day
in what Human Rights Watch has called
“the most serious incident of mass
unlawful killings in modern Egyptian
history.” The bloodshed was
condemned around the world and led
the United States to partially suspend
an annual $1.3 billion aid package to
Egypt.
Although relations with western
governments have not suffered as
much as one might expect, it is still
vital that Egypt provide some sort of
legal basis for the decision to remove
Morsi from office. The US has
emphasized the need for due process
to be observed in the former
president’s trial. Secretary of State John
Kerry made a surprise visit to Cairo on
Sunday, a sign that the world will be
watching the proceedings closely.