The trial of Egypt's ousted former President Mohammed Morsi began Monday morning on the outskirts of the country's capital and was immediately rendered chaotic, as protestors gathered to chant "illegitimate, illegitimate" and the ex-president refused to change into the prison uniform demanded by the judge. The trial was disrupted, temporarily suspended, and, state media reports, finally adjourned until January 8th.
The ex-president, who holds a doctorate from the University of Southern California, was airlifted into the Police Academy compound, and was seen wearing civilian clothes — the first glimpse the public has had since he was deposed on July 3. Other members of the Muslim Brotherhood also meant to go on trial today, including Mohammed al-Beltagi and Ahmed Abdel Aatie, arrived in armored vehicles. Crowds of several hundred pro-Morsi protesters arrived at the compound — an hour's drive from Cairo — soon after, shouting slogans against army chief Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led Morsi's ouster. Some groups within the crowd reportedly turned violent, attacking journalists and state TV, but no injuries have been reported.
The judge suspended the proceedings temporarily when Morsi refused to remove his suit and put on the demanded prison uniform. According to security officials, after the judge called his name, identifying the former president as the "defendant," Morsi replied: "I am Dr. Mohammed Morsi, the president of the republic. I am Egypt's legitimate president."
"I refuse to be tried by this court," he added.
The judge then announced an adjournment, saying the trial would resume on January 8, the AP reports.
The former president, along with 14 co-defendants, faces charges of inciting the violence that left ten people dead last year, when thousands of demonstrators gathered outside the presidential palace to protest against a decree that gave the leader expanded powers, and were subsequently broken up — forcefully — by Morsi supporters.
But the trial — which comes after months of Morsi being held in isolated detention, without access to a lawyer, and amid a wide-scale crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood — will be fraught with political tensions, and has already come under criticism from human rights groups.
"This is first and foremost a political trial and an important one. There is zero chance of it being free and fair," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui of Amnesty International. "The trial is a clear reminder of a polarised Egyptian society at this moment of time."
According to a statement released by Amnesty International Sunday, Morsi was interrogated and investigated without being given access to a lawyer, which "significantly undermines his right to a fair trial."
Morsi isn't the only ousted president being tried at the Police Academy. His predecessor, former Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak, is also on trial, and also being held at the Academy. If Morsi is convicted, Egypt's first democratically-elected president could face death penalty.