On Trial

Morsi’s Soundproof Glass Booth Trial

Deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi was sequestered in highly unusual fashion during his trials this weekend.

02.02.14 10:45 AM ET

As the head of Mohamed Morsi’s legal team arrived at the former President’s trial hearing on Saturday, his car was reportedly set upon by an angry crowd of protesters. Some of them banged on the vehicles windows, according to journalists at the scene, while others screamed insults as groups of nearby policemen looked on.
The lawyer, Mohamed Salim al-Awah, complained to a senior officer at the scene. “This will have consequences,” he said, before getting back inside his car.
And so it might—though perhaps the consequences of the trial itself will be even more far-reaching.
Today, the man who was fleetingly Egypt’s first democratically elected leader until July of last year was flown to Cairo for his latest session in the dock. Morsi’s courtroom appearances have been a trial in more than one sense—not least for those trying to keep track of the ever expanding charge sheet.
The ex-President, who was ousted by the military following a massive wave of protests against him last summer, is now involved in four separate criminal cases.
Yesterday’s hearing was the resumption of a trial in which the former leader is accused of inciting the murder of protesters during a rally outside the Presidential Palace in December 2012. Along with 14 other co-defendants—who include senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood—prosecutors allege that Morsi was complicit in the killings of three people who were caught up in the clashes which erupted that day.
Earlier in the week prosecutors opened a second case involving the onetime Egyptian leader. Inside the special-converted auditorium of a Police Academy in eastern Cairo, the 62-year-old Morsi was accused of conspiring with militants from the Palestinian group Hamas and the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah.
The case revolves around a mass prison break that occurred days after the beginning of the uprising against Hosni Mubarak in January 2011. Morsi, who had been imprisoned by the authorities soon after the insurrection began, managed to escape along with around 20,000 other prisoners.
He is being charged with allowing militants from Hamas, a sister organization of the Brotherhood, to cross the border from the neighbouring Gaza Strip and into Egypt.
During his appearance, Morsi angrily asked the presiding judge why he was on trial. “Who are you? Tell me!” he shouted. “I am the head of Egypt’s criminal court!” responded the judge.
The appearance encapsulated some of the theatre and farce that has clung to Morsi’s courtroom appearances ever since the first hearing back in November— the first time the ex-President had been seen in public since being ousted by his own generals.
That hearing was adjourned shortly after it began. It was due to resume in early January but was again postponed—this time because the authorities said the weather was too bad to transport Morsi by helicopter from his prison cell in Alexandria.
The most recent sessions have been highly unorthodox, with Morsi, dressed in a white prison uniform, standing inside a glass box. In an apparent bid to prevent the former President from using the dock as a political soapbox, he was allowed to speak via a microphone that only the judge could operate.
During Saturday’s appearance, all of the defendants reportedly turned their backs on the courtroom and held up the four-fingered ‘Rabaa’ salute—a gesture used by Morsi’s supporters in reference to the mass killings of Islamists last summer, when several hundred protesters were shot dead by the security services in Cairo.
For many Egyptians, not least those who supported the military-backed regime that assumed power following the events of last July, the trial of Morsi is a necessary step in the path of revolutionary justice.
“It will be a message for the coming President that he will not be above the law,” said Esraa Abdel Fattah, an Egyptian activist who has expressed strong support for the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood. “It will show that the country should be ruled without any exception.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Morsi’s supporters have expressed their determination to continue pressing their rejection of the current regime’s “political roadmap” towards parliamentary and presidential elections later this year. “Even if Morsi is executed we will continue,” said Abdullah Hegazy, a 39-year-old teacher.
The Morsi legal team has denounced the entire basis of the trials. One of his chief lawyers, Mohamed al-Damaty, said that his client’s case had turned into a political spectacle—not a criminal one.
 “The atmosphere is not appropriate for holding a trial,” he said. “The executive branch in Egypt have intervened in the situation and accused the Muslim Brotherhood of being terrorists. I believe the judiciary is impartial and independent, and has been for a long time. But the atmosphere in which the trial is taking place is not right.”
Such criticisms are perhaps to be expected from the ranks of the Morsi defense team. But others have raised objections. Gamal Eid, head of a Cairo-based NGO, told The Daily Beast that he did not believe it was possible for Morsi to receive a fair trial. “The old regime is taking its revenge on him right now,” he said.
One international human-rights lawyer, who was part of a team of international legal observers who travelled to Egypt to oversee proceedings against the former President, told The Daily Beast the he and his colleagues had listed a catalogue of concerns related to the trials. “We believe this is a case in which the government is not observing the human rights standards which it is signed up to.”
As well as questioning the very basis of Morsi’s detention—essentially because the ex-President was ousted in what they described as an unconstitutional coup—the observers noted numerous apparent breaches of rights conventions. They included evidence being withheld from lawyers, legal consultations to Morsi being restricted, and the eventual decision to place the chief defendant inside his glass box, thus restricting his ability to follow the case.
 “Even if we are to say that this was a legally constituted court, which I think is very far-fetched, the trial is unfair,” said the lawyer.