CAIRO — Held incommunicado for the four months since his overthrow as president, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood walked into a courtroom Monday for his new role as a defendant in a murder trial.
But Morsi, dressed in a blue suit, refused even to wear the all-white prisoner's outfit.
"I want a microphone so I can talk to you," Morsi shouted three times from a special defendant's cage constructed to obscure him from public view. "There is a military coup in the country," he shouted, adding, "I am the president of the republic, according to the constitution of the state, and I am forcibly detained!"
Repeatedly cited by the new government as evidence of its adherence to the rule of law, the trial instead threatened to embarrass its leadership, with the defendants and their lawyers seizing a rare platform to question the military takeover. Islamists around Egypt were galvanized by Morsi's show of defiance as the judge failed to gavel him into silence and instead adjourned the trial for two months.
And the timing, analysts said, also proved awkward for Secretary of State John Kerry. On a visit to Cairo just a day before, he had said that — despite mass killings of protesters and apparently politicized trials like Morsi's — "so far there are indications" that the generals who ousted Egypt's first elected president intended to "restore democracy."
The visit was "unbelievable timing," said Michael Wahid Hanna, an Egypt scholar at the Century Foundation in New York. He argued that opponents of the Islamists would see the trip as an American effort to protect Morsi, while Islamists would hear Kerry's "soft and optimistic statements as a U.S. blessing to the new military-led political order."
Morsi and 14 co-defendants — seven of whom are still at large — are charged with inciting the killing of protesters who massed outside the presidential palace in December 2012 and demanded that he call off a referendum on a new Islamist-drafted constitution. Brotherhood members attacked a sit-in by the protesters, sparking clashes that left 10 people dead.
Morsi's appearance Monday was his first in public since the July 3 military coup that removed him from power.