Mursi goes on trial as Egypt struggles for democracy

Mursi goes on trial as Egypt struggles for democracy

CAIRO - Egypt's first freely elected president, Mohamed Mursi, goes on trial on Monday under a security crackdown that has devastated his Muslim Brotherhood movement and raised concerns that the army-backed government is reimposing a police state.

A popular uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 raised hopes that Egyptians would break the military establishment's longstanding grip on power.

But the world's most populous Arab nation has faltered in its political transition, and the generals are back in charge, to the dismay of Cairo's Western allies who were hoping Egypt's experiment with democracy would be smooth.

Mursi, who was ousted by the army on July 3 after mass protests against his rule, is due to appear in court along with 14 other senior Muslim Brotherhood figures on charges of inciting violence.

He and the other defendants could face a life sentence or death penalty if found guilty. That would likely further inflame tensions between the Brotherhood and the army-backed government and deepen the political instability that has decimated investment and tourism in a country where a quarter of people live under the poverty line.

When the military ousted Mursi, it promised a political roadmap would lead to free and fair elections.

What followed was one of the harshest clampdowns ever mounted against the Brotherhood, which is now struggling to survive after enduring state repression for decades.

In August, riot police backed by army snipers crushed Cairo protest camps demanding the reinstatement of Mursi, a US-trained engineer.

Security officials accuse Brotherhood leaders of inciting violence and terrorism. Hundreds of the movement's members have been killed and many of its leaders jailed.

The Brotherhood denies any links with violent activity.

Mursi has been held in an undisclosed location since his removal. The trial is expected to be held at a police institute near Cairo's Tora prison.

The charges of inciting violence relate to the deaths of about a dozen people in clashes outside the presidential palace in December after Mursi enraged his opponents with a decree expanding his powers.

"What concerns me about this trial is that the justice system has been extremely selective and there has been almost near impunity for security services for the killing of hundreds of protesters," said Heba Morayef, Egypt director for Human Rights Watch.

"And in that kind of environment of politicised prosecutions, the likelihood for real justice is compromised."

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