CAIRO — A new trial for Egypt's ousted ex-president opened Sunday in Cairo, with prosecutors accusing him of espionage and leaking confidential information to Qatar while in office.
The hearing was swiftly adjourned and a new date set for Feb. 28 after the court ruled that the defense should consult with Mohammed Morsi and the other 10 defendants in the case. Prosecutors say the other defendants are members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood group, which propelled him to office in 2012 but was later banned after the army overthrew him a year later.
"I am the legitimate president... and this trial is a farce," said a defiant and sometimes smiling Morsi from the defendant's cage at the hearing, presided over by Judge Mohammed Shereen Fahmy at the Cairo Criminal Court. The other defendants denied the charges, holding up four fingers in a gesture that has come to symbolize the Brotherhood's cause.
Prosecutors allege that Morsi conspired with the other defendants to leak secret state documents, including military and security files, to Qatar — which had strongly supported Morsi's presidency and became a bitter rival to his military successors. The case hinges on allegations that the defendants conspired to hand deliver documents via national airline EgyptAir. A former EgyptAir cabin crew member is also in the dock.
Morsi, overthrown in July 2013 following mass protests demanding his resignation, does not recognize the court, and insists Egypt's current leadership came to power in a coup d'etat and is thus illegitimate.
Since then the government, now led by former army chief President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, has launched a sweeping crackdown on the Brotherhood and other political opponents.
Morsi faces three other ongoing trials, on charges that include organizing jailbreaks, conspiring with foreign powers and inciting the killing of protesters — for which he could face the death penalty. He was Egypt's first democratically elected leader, but his turbulent one-year rule left the country sharply divided.
Sissi's government has branded the Brotherhood a terrorist organization and has waged a fierce crackdown on it since Morsi's ouster.
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