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Morsi's trial to begin on Monday

Mohamed Morsi has been held in an undisclosed location since his removal.

Ousted Egypt President Mohammed Morsi. Picture: AFP

CAIRO - Egypt's first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi, 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.

Morsi, 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. Ousted

When the military ousted Morsi, 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 Morsi, 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.

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

PATHWAY TO DEMOCRACY

There are indications that the authorities are growing less tolerant of freedom of expression.

Egypt's top television satirist was pulled off the airwaves a week after he poked fun at army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Egyptian officials admit the path to democracy has been rocky. But they caution that a proper democratic transformation will take time.

Islamist militants based in the Sinai Peninsula have stepped up attacks on security forces since Morsi's ouster.

Egyptian security officials accuse Hamas, which is an offshoot of the Brotherhood and runs the Gaza Strip, of supplying Sinai Islamists with arms, an accusation the Palestinian militant group denies.

Brotherhood officials say they are still determined to fight for Morsi's reinstatement, even though far fewer Islamists seem ready to protest in the face of the onslaught by security forces.

The Brotherhood accused the army of staging a coup and reversing the democratic gains made since the fall of Mubarak, who ruled with an iron fist for three decades.

But many Egyptians, who grew disillusioned with Morsi's rule, do not share their view.

The military says it was responding to the will of the people.

Sisi, the man who toppled Morsi, has become wildly popular. Few doubt the general, who was head of military intelligence under Mubarak, would win if he runs for president.

The resurgence of the military raises questions about the prospects for democracy in Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel and controls the Suez Canal, a global trade route.

Relatives of Brotherhood detainees complain they are being held in cramped conditions and mistreated.

The trial is expected to be held at a police institute near Cairo's Tora prison.

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