Egypt deeply divided as Morsi appears in court
We all knew what Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's ousted president, would say as he faced his judges for the first time. And he said it.
"I am the president of the republic," he shouted.
As the court descended into uproar, Egyptian journalists shrieked at Mr Morsi and six of his co-accused over and over: "Execute them, execute them."
The police did nothing to end this circus.
It would be easy to joke about this carnival of a court, its cops pleading with mobs of reporters and advocates to stop shouting and fighting while Egypt's former president – for that is what he is, despite his protests – stood in his business suit, grey-bearded, occasionally bear-hugging his fellow prisoners.
This was part of Egypt's post-revolutionary tragedy, an elected leader standing on charges of incitement to kill, an accusation that – if proved to the satisfaction of the court – could cost him his life.
Though no one believes it will. The journalists would not have bayed for his hanging if they thought he would be sentenced to death, just as Mr Morsi himself would never have claimed he was still the president of Egypt if he really believed he was.
But that is what this historically unprecedented hearing was all about; whether post-revolutionary Egypt can have a working democracy, whether Arab governments can represent their entire nations, or whether the people who struggled, and still struggle, so bravely for their dignity and freedom must now clap their hands in weary unison at the appearance of Egypt's armed forces chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The portents were not good yesterday.
Mr Morsi had not been seen in public since the coup, but he looked fit enough, maybe a trifle plumper, speaking to his colleagues, who were wearing prison gear.
When he interrupted Judge Youssef, his voice sounded loud and confident. "I am the president of the republic," he stated.
"The coup is a crime. The court is held responsible for this crime. Everything that is happening here is a cover for the coup. It's a tragedy that Egypt's great judiciary should be a cover for the coup."
There were other remarks from Mr Morsi, difficult to hear because he was so frequently shouted down. He said that he respected the members of the court, but that it had no constitutional right to try a head of state. "I am the president of the state, and I am being held against my will."
He struggled on. As the sound-men ramped up the volume on the judge's microphone to drown out Mr Morsi's words, he could be heard pleading: "Give me something (a microphone) so I can speak to you."
"Not now," the judge snapped.
If a court could show the divisions of a nation, this one did.
Outside the academy, the riot police were fixing gas canisters to their guns opposite hundreds of pro-Morsi demonstrators. The court adjourned, as they say, until January 8. (© Independent News Service)