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Murder Trial Begins For Egypt's Ex-President Then Adjourns


In Egypt, ousted president Mohammed Morsi appeared in public today for the first time since he was toppled and detained in a military coup in July. He was brought to court to face charges of inciting violence and murder. Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, was defiant. He insisted that he is still the country's legitimate leader. He even refused to wear his prison jumpsuit.

His co-defendants - there are 14 of them - disrupted the proceedings with chants of down with military rule. The judge eventually ordered a recess until January. Morsi is in the same court where former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, forced out by public protest in February, 2011, has face his own charges. Mubarak is under house arrest now.

NPR's Leila Fadel has left the courtroom and joins us now. Leila, good morning.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So what was the scene like in there?

FADEL: For moments it was complete chaos. When Morsi walked into the courtroom, into the cage, the lawyers that were there in defense of him were flashing a sign that has become the symbol of where a sit-in were dispersed here, where hundreds have died. They called him the legitimate president as others called for his execution, some among them Egyptian journalists; others, police officers.

So there were moments where it was complete chaos as the defendants themselves screamed for the end of what they say is military rule, and called the court null and void, not legitimate.

GREENE: Now, you mentioned a cage. This is the situation in some countries where a defendant actually sits in a cage, sort of locked behind away from people and inside a courtroom.

FADEL: Yeah. Here in Egypt, every court has a prosecution cage where the defendant sits inside as judges discuss the case and the prosecution discusses the case, and the defense discusses the case. This particular courtroom was built for ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak's trial. And now, Morsi, the first elected president who was ousted by a military coup popularly backed was in that courtroom today.

GREENE: Extraordinary, a toppled leader in the same cage, same place where another former leader was facing charges. I mean that says something about the situation in Egypt.

FADEL: That's true. But it's quite different circumstances and very interesting to watch. This is a country divided. It was a courtroom divided. Some saying: Down with military rule, others calling for the execution of Morsi as Morsi declared himself the president of the Republic of Egypt, defiantly, telling the judge he had no jurisdiction over him. And he still doesn't have a lawyer technically because he doesn't recognize the legitimacy of this court.

GREENE: OK, a chaotic scene. We have Morsi in this cage. Some people calling, as far as - I mean his execution which is quite dramatic. What was Morsi like? I mean he's been out of sight for four months now.

FADEL: Well, as you mentioned, he shows up in a business suit unlike the other defendants who are in white jumpsuits. It's something that a lot of the attorneys on the defense side were happy to see, that he was allowed to wear that, despite it being a criminal case. He was saying the same things he said before, that he was the legitimate president. And even though he hasn't been seen since July 3rd, he seemed OK. He doesn't look like he's been hurt or anything has happened to him in that way. And he seemed kind of defiant.

Prior to the beginning trial, the other defendants, the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, said that they had been treated badly. One, a leading member said he was kept in one cell for 60 days. The lawyers say that they have had no access to Morsi until they saw him today.

GREENE: Leila Fadel, let's remember the context here. The military said they removed Morsi under this popular outcry because, as they say, he abused his powers - that's their argument. His Muslim Brotherhood supporters note that he was democratically-elected. They say this was entirely illegal and undemocratic. I mean, is there a chance this trial will be fair in some way and resolve some of these questions?

FADEL: Well, the lawyers who were representing the victims of the violence - the violence they're accused of are killings outside of the presidential palace in December - they hope that it will be a straight criminal case. This is a case filed before Morsi's ouster. But in this political climate, there are questions whether this can be a fair trial. There are political aspirations behind it as well. And many feel that, really, he can't get a fair trial right now, when he's been ousted by the military, he's been kept incommunicado for months.

And so that's the real question. That's the real test. Will he have real access to lawyers? Will he be able to rebut the evidence? And that's still something that we'll have to see.

GREENE: We've been talking NPR's Leila Fadel who's in Cairo covering the trial of former President Mohamed Morsi. Leila, thanks a lot.

FADEL: Thank you.


GREENE: And you're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.