Middle East

Egypt on high alert as Mohammed Morsi arrives for trial

Egypt's ousted former President Mohammed Morsi has arrived in court in Cairo where he is due to go on trial, state media say.

He and 14 other Muslim Brotherhood figures face charges of inciting the killing of protesters in clashes outside the presidential palace.

Security services are on high alert after supporters of the former president called for major protests.

Mr Morsi was ousted by the military in July after protests against his rule.

According to state TV, he arrived at the courtroom, inside the Police Academy in Cairo. Other key Brotherhood figures, Essam el-Erian, Mohammed al-Beltagi and Ahmed Abdel Aati are also there.

While Mr Morsi was airlifted into the compound by helicopter, other defendants were said to have been brought in by armoured personnel carriers.

The former president was seen from a distance in civilian clothes, Egyptian radio reported - his first appearance in public since he was ousted on 3 July.

The trial had been due to take place at Tora prison on the other side of Cairo but had been switched late on Sunday, apparently to deter protesters.

Shortly after Mr Morsi's arrival, a small crowd arrived and began chanting outside the sprawling police compound more than one hour's drive from the centre of the city. The crowd soon grew to number some 200.

Although Mr Morsi won the presidency in a democratic election, during his 13 months in power he fell out with key institutions.

The ex-president is accused of "incitement to murder and violence" over the deaths of at least 10 people during intense clashes in December 2012 which followed a decree that gave him wide-ranging powers.

After he was ousted, a sit-in protest in Cairo by Mr Morsi's supporters was violently broken up by the military, leading to the deaths of hundreds of people.

The interim government has also cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Mr Morsi hails, banning the Islamist organisation and arresting dozens of senior figures.

His supporters say he was removed in a coup and is now facing a politicised trial. Human rights groups accuse the security services of acting without accountability.

Mr Morsi and his co-defendants are expected to use the trial to underline what they see as the illegitimacy of their ousting. There is considerable interest in Egypt in whether the authorities decide to televise the former leader's appearance in court.

His senior communications adviser, Wael Haddara, told the BBC that the process was a "charade" because everyone involved had been appointed by the military.

"What is the military afraid of? Why won't they let him speak? Even prisoners have rights."

The BBC's Kevin Connolly in Cairo says the court proceedings will be a trial of strength for the two dominant forces in Egyptian life - testing the army's ability to keep order on the streets and the Islamic movement's ability to continue to resist under crushing pressure.

Tight security

On Saturday, Egyptian newspaper al-Watan published what it said were the first images of Mr Morsi in detention.

Supporters of President Mohammed Morsi hold a poster of him with Arabic that reads, "yes to legitimacy, Morsi is my president," right, and "we support Rabaah with legitimacy," during a protest a day before the trial
Supporters of the ousted former president have called for protests outside the trial venue and across Egypt

The images, which have not been independently verified and are undated, show Mr Morsi dressed in a tracksuit and sitting in an armchair, appearing animated and comfortable.

He has been held at a secret location since he was ousted by the military, who had given the then-president a 48-hour ultimatum to end mass protests against his rule.

Mr Morsi's trial is expected to start between 07:00 and 08:00 GMT.

The trial of his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, is being held at the same location - meaning there are two former Egyptian presidents being tried concurrently.

Correspondents in Cairo say people are nervous about what the coming days will bring, expecting the trial to deepen the rift between Egyptians and causing greater unrest and instability.

On Sunday evening, gunmen killed two Egyptian policemen near the city of Ismailia, and there are fears more violence could erupt.

The security forces are expected to deploy 20,000 officers to keep order.

They are watching railway and bus stations for gatherings of Islamists and have closed a stretch of underground railway near the trial venue.

Only days before Mr Morsi's trial, three presiding judges stepped down at the trial of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie and his two aides.

Judge Mohammed Fahmy al-Qarmuty said he and his colleagues had a "feeling of embarrassment" over the case.

Legal experts say that if convicted Mr Morsi could be jailed for life or face the death penalty.

'Move to democracy'

Ahead of the trial, US Secretary of State John Kerry stopped in Cairo for a brief visit at the start of his tour of the region.

He called for an end to all violence in the country and urged moves to full democracy. He also said the US was committed to working with Egypt's military-backed rulers.

On his six-hour stop, Mr Kerry met the interim leaders who assumed control following Mr Morsi's removal in July - President Adly Mahmud Mansour, Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi, Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy and army chief Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Egyptian military soldiers stand guard near a protest the day before the trial of the former President Mohammed Morsi
Security forces have been deployed across the country

Mr Kerry said Egypt's fortunes, and its bilateral relations, depended on its democratic transition.

"The United States believes that the US-Egypt partnership is going to be stronger when Egypt is represented by an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government based on rule of law, fundamental freedoms and an open and competitive economy," he said.

His Egyptian counterpart, Nabil Fahmy, said Mr Kerry's comments and the "roadmap" Gen Sisi had laid out following the military takeover - which sets out constitutional reform and elections by spring 2014 - indicated that "we are all pursuing a resumption of normal relations".

Mr Kerry also reportedly met members of Egyptian civil society alarmed by the crackdown.

Last month the US froze a large portion of the $1.3bn (£810m) in aid it sends to Egypt, prompting condemnation from Cairo.