The trial of Egypt’s ousted President Mohammed Morsi will begin on Nov. 4, authorities announced Wednesday, launching a politically charged prosecution of the country’s ousted leader on charges he incited the killing of opponents while in office — and taking the crackdown against the Islamist leader and his Muslim Brotherhood to a new level.
The trial threatens to add to the turmoil gripping Egypt since the July 3 popularly supported coup that removed Morsi, as his Islamist supporters are likely to hold protests around his court appearances that could easily spiral into violence. Over past months, Brotherhood-led protests against the military have repeatedly degenerated into clashes with police that have left hundreds dead.
For the military-backed government, the trial is an opportunity to show justification for the broad crackdown it has waged against the Brotherhood — and ultimately for the removal of Morsi — by bringing out details of one of the tensest periods of Morsi’s presidency, when the president was clashing openly with the judiciary and coming under accusations of using Islamist mobs to suppress dissent.
But the military, which now dominates the country’s politics, also opens itself up to potential criticism it is merely carrying out show trials, trying to put a nail in the coffin of the Brotherhood, which accuses the army and its supporters of wrecking Egypt’s fledgling democracy.
Already there are questions whether the trial, in which Morsi and 14 other members of his Brotherhood are defendants, can be fair. Morsi has been held in secret military detention since his ouster, with almost no contact with the outside world beyond two phone calls with his family. His defense lawyers have not been allowed to talk to him yet, and they say they have not been shown the documentation of the prosecution’s case against him.
The trial is likely to be the first of many against the Brotherhood. Prosecutors have been preparing cases against some 2,000 of the group’s leaders and members currently in detention.