The first day of Mohammad Morsi’s trial in Cairo yesterday would have been pure comedy were it not for the fact that a nation’s judicial system is a perfect indicator of the nature of the ruling regime and should, therefore, always be taken seriously, writes Abdelbari Atwan.
In the course of the two-hour session the procedure was turned on its head and the military junta, the privately-owned media and the Egyptian legal system, found themselves in the dock rather than the elected President Morsi who was standing trial for inciting murder.
When asked to identify himself from the defendants’ cage, Morsi replied: “I am Dr Mohammad Morsi and I am President of the republic.” A response which garnered wild applause from his fourteen co-defendants – all senior Muslim Brotherhood officials – and the defence legal team.
As defence lawyers chanted: “The people demand the return of the President,” the press scrambled over furnishings and shoved police out of their way in order to get a better view.
Journalists from pro-Mubarak news outlets and some policemen started shouting “execute him” and “Morsi is a traitor.” The presiding judge, Ahmed Sabry Youssef, was unable to maintain any semblance of order.
Morsi himself kept up the tempo, frequently booming out, condemning the “criminal military coup,” and refusing to accept the legitimacy of the court.
Youssef was forced to adjourn the trial four times amidst pandemonium and every time the court re-convened, Morsi’s was the first voice to be heard re-asserting his Presidency and condemning the “treasonous coup.”
The military government calculated that putting Morsi and the entire Muslim Brotherhood leadership behind bars would end the current crisis in Egypt and restore its security, stability and prosperity. What is happening now is absolutely the opposite as everyone can see the junta and the judiciary are behaving in a dishonest, downright fraudulent manner.
President Mohamed Morsi has proved that he is stronger – morally at least – than General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – de facto president of the country – and the Egyptian army.
The junta seemed flustered in its manner of dealing with trial. It changed the venue one day before it began, and did not dare to broadcast it on live television. We recall that the trial of ex-President Mubarak was first broadcast live and then the cameras were banned by the leader of the interim junta, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.
Yesterday, the army deployed 20,000 troops and 1,500 tanks and armoured vehicles against protestors demonstrating in support of Morsi. Anyone would think they were going to war!
This first court session places the judiciary under rigorous scrutiny by anyone concerned with genuine democracy and human rights. Morsi was properly elected in the first free and fair elections in Egypt for decades. The crimes of which he stands accused are clearly fabricated yet the judiciary, which should be independent, is incapable of demonstrating the impartiality which must be part of any justice system, seeking from the outset to prove Morsi’s “guilt” rather than assuming he is innocent until convinced by undeniable evidence to the contrary.
President Morsi has not committed any criminal offence punishable by law; the only crimes that are certain are those committed against him and all of his colleagues. He has not so much as swatted a mosquito, yet Muslim Brotherhood members are daily being assassinated, tortured, and arbitrarily detained. Pro-Morsi demonstrators outside government buildings, or those involved in sit-ins, have been shot in cold blood by security forces and the army, or run over by tanks and bulldozers.
Morsi also faces an additional, even more ridiculous charge, which is collaborating with Hamas. President Mubarak and his government ministers and security officials – many of whom are involved in the present junta – did not face such charges, and yet they hosted Hamas’s leaders in the most luxurious hotels in Egypt, rolling out the red carpet every time they disembarked from a plane in Egyptian airports. If collaborating with Hamas is a crime then Mubarak must be re-tried along with Egyptian intelligence leaders old and new.
President Morsi is still the legitimate President of Egypt, whether you agree or disagree with his politics and religious persuasions. If his mistakes failed to save the country from crisis, the people would have been able to remove him, legitimately, from power via the ballot box. He had only been President for 12 months when bullying loyalists to the Mubarak regime began inciting protests and rebellion.
Those who deserve prosecution have already ousted an elected President, they have sent tanks and bulldozers to crush peaceful protesters, they have turned Egypt into a military dictatorship, stifled free speech, muzzled the media, and, the biggest tragedy of all, destroyed the great achievements of the Egyptian revolution.
Egypt needs strong leadership now more than ever; a leadership which could put an end to these extravaganzas, and restore the prestige of the State and respect for the law; which could oversee the establishment of a true democracy based on inclusion, national reconciliation and peaceful coexistence. Only then will Egypt find peace and regain its stability and international prestige.