Egyptian women hold posters as they chant slogans during a demonstration Wednesday against the absence of a quota for women in the constitution in front of the upper house of parliament, the Shura Council in Cairo. (Nariman El-Mofty / AP)
CAIRO — Egypt’s ousted President Mohammed Morsi accused the military chief who deposed him of treason in a message from prison read by lawyers on Wednesday, saying the country cannot return to stability until the coup is reversed and those behind it are tried.
The statement was part of a bid by Morsi to rally his supporters since his emergence from the secret military detention where he had been held, with virtually no contact with the outside world, since his July 3 ouster.
Morsi was moved to a high security civilian penitentiary last week after the first session of his trial on charges of inciting murder. There, he had his first extensive meeting with a team of lawyers from his Muslim Brotherhood and other allies on Tuesday, dictating the “message to the Egyptian people” to them.
But he is emerging to a dramatically changed situation from four months ago.
Since then, a fierce crackdown by security forces has crippled the Brotherhood, several thousand top leaders have been arrested, and hundreds have been killed. The group has been banned by a court order and a government-appointed committee is reviewing its financial assets with an eye to seize them. The new military-backed government is pushing ahead with a transition plan aiming for new presidential and parliamentary elections early next year.
Under the crackdown, protests by Morsi’s supporters have dwindled and have been reduced to small gatherings in universities or localized neighborhood rallies. Security officials, however, worry the protests could flare stronger with the anticipated lifting on Wednesday or Thursday of a 3-month-old state of emergency and curfew.
Morsi’s statement lay down a hard line, praising protesters for their “steadfastness” and vowing the coup would be reversed.
“The coup has begun to fall apart and will topple in the face of the steadfastness of the Egyptian people,” he said in the statement, read by the lawyers at a press conference. His lawyers stressed that they had taken notes from Morsi and articulated the message themselves.
He said Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who heads the military, had violated his oath of loyalty and committed “treason against God” and “treason against the whole nation by driving a wedge among the people of Egypt.”
He also said Egypt will not see stability until “the military coup is eliminated and those responsible for shedding Egyptians’ blood are held accountable.”
The 62-year-old Morsi also gave his first accounting of his detention. He said was “kidnapped forcefully and against my will” on July 2, a day before el-Sissi announced the installation of a new interim president. He said he was kept in a Republican Guards facility for three days, then moved to a naval base.
Military and security officials refused to divulge where Morsi was kept until his trial, citing concerns for his safety. Morsi also said he did not meet any military leaders during his detention.
In his trial, Morsi has so far refused to accept legal representation, insisting he remains the elected president and that the tribunal against him is illegitimate. In the trial’s first session — Morsi’s first public appearance since his ouster — he spoke out defiantly, portraying himself as president.
The session, however, was not aired live and no cameras or recording devices were allowed in the courtroom. The only imagery made public from the trial was a short video with no sound that was aired later on state and independent TV channels, showing a healthy Morsi in a dark suit stepping out of a minibus to the courtroom, and later inside the cage.
Lawyer Mohammed el-Damati, who acts as a spokesman for the Brotherhood legal team, said at the press conference Wednesday that so far that position has not changed after the prison meeting the day before, and that it is “too early” to say whether Morsi will accept a lawyer. He has until the next session of the trial, on Jan. 8, to decide.
The team of lawyers will start pursuing legal measures against the coup and those behind it, el-Damati said.
When asked what are the legal options Morsi and his team think they can take to reverse the coup, el-Damati said, “These are thorny issues.” One possibility is to make a complaint to the prosecutor-general that “what happened is a crime.” Another is to file a suit in administrative courts arguing that the decisions taken by el-Sissi are “null and invalid.”