CAIRO — The trial of Mohammed Morsi was adjourned twice early Monday morning after the ousted Egyptian president refused to wear prison clothes and declared himself the legitimate leader of the country.
The trial will resume January 8, giving defense lawyers time to review documents.
Morsi told the court trying him for inciting violence and murder that he remains the “legitimate president” of the country.
The officials said Morsi also said he rejected the proceedings against him. The defiant remarks came shortly after Morsi’s trial began in Cairo on Monday.
The officials, who are inside the courtroom, spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the proceedings.
The officials say Morsi’s comments came in response to a judge calling his name out after identifying him as a “defendant.”
Morsi replied: “I am Dr. Mohammed Morsi, the president of the republic. I am Egypt’s legitimate president.”
He further said, “I refuse to be tried by this court.”
“I see the judiciary as a cover for the treacherous coup,” the former president added, according to the Saudi news outlet Al-Arabiya.
The judge earlier suspended the trial over Morsi’s refusal to wear the white prison uniform all defendants must wear.
The session later got underway, though it was not immediately known how the issue of Morsi’s attire was resolved, but the proceedings were soon adjourned because the defendants — Morsi and 14 other Muslim Brotherhood figures — started chanting and disrupted the hearing. The adjournment, ordered by presiding judge Ahmed Sabry Youssef, was likely to last till later on Monday.
Al-Ahram, a news outlet with close ties to the regime, reported that the trial was suspended after the defendants chanted from a cage, “Down with the military rule.”
He could face the death penalty if convicted.
Morsi arrived by helicopter earlier Monday morning at a Cairo police academy where his trial is being held, his first public appearance since the July 3 coup that ousted him from power.
The trial is fraught with risks and comes amid a highly charged atmosphere in a bitterly polarized nation, with a deepening schism between Morsi’s Islamist supporters in one hand and Egypt’s security establishment and the nation’s moderate Muslims, secularists, Christians and women on the other.
Police are expected to deploy 20,000 officers for extra security to patrol the streets as the trial gets underway.
In a last-minute change, authorities on Sunday switched the location of Morsi’s trial, a move apparently aimed at thwarting mass rallies planned by the Muslim Brotherhood, a group from which Morsi hails.
Security was tight around the trial’s venue, a police academy in an eastern Cairo district, with hundreds of black-clad riot police backed by armored vehicles deployed around the sprawling complex. Several armored vehicles were deployed too. The final stretch of road leading to the academy was sealed off, with only authorized personnel and accredited journalists allowed to approach the facility.
Several hundred Morsi supporters gathered outside the police academy, carrying posters of the ousted president and banners depicting an open palm with four fingers — the symbol commemorating a pro-Morsi sit-in that was violently cleared by security forces in August. They also chanted slogans against Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the military chief who led the July coup.
Only four of Morsi’s 28 lawyers were allowed into the courthouse, according to al-Ahram.
Inside, Morsi refused to wear a prison uniform, instead appearing in a suit.
Across town, several hundred Morsi supporters also rallied outside the Supreme Constitutional Court and the capital’s main court complex in the downtown area.
“I came here to witness this farce,” Gamal Azab, a Morsi supporter, said outside the police academy. “I am not afraid of the police, but I am worried about my country.”
The academy is also being used for the trial of another former president — Hosni Mubarak — toppled in a 2011 uprising. He is accused of failing to stop the killing of protesters.
Since his ouster in the July popularly backed coup, Morsi has been held at a secret military location with little communication to the outside world.
During four months of detention, Morsi has been extensively questioned and has not been allowed to meet with lawyers. Virtually his only contact with the outside world was two phone calls with his family. Brotherhood supporters have called the detention an outright kidnapping, and Morsi has refused to cooperate with his interrogators.
Morsi faces charges along with 14 other Brotherhood figures and allies — including top leaders Mohammed el-Beltagy and Essam el-Erian — in connection to clashes last December outside his presidential palace that left at least 10 dead.
After the July coup, Egypt has witnessed one of its worst bouts of violence in decades.
On August 14, security forces violently cleared protest camps set up by Morsi supporters, sparking days of unrest that left more than 1,000 dead.
Since then, violent incidents have multiplied: a suicide car bomber tried to assassinate Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim in September, and dozens of members of the security forces have been killed in a string of drive-by shootings, explosions and car bombs. Churches have been torched, and in an attack in Cairo last month, five Copts and one Muslim were killed in drive-by shooting at a church.
International rights groups have called for fair trial for Morsi.
In a Sunday statement, London-based Amnesty International said Morsi’s trial is a “test” for the Egyptian authorities, who must grant him the “right to challenge the evidence against him in court,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty’s Middle East director.
Morsi’s family considers the trial illegitimate and will not attend, his son Osama told The Associated Press. Awad said they feared they would be mistreated and humiliated.