It is the second time in just over two years that an overthrown president has been in court in Egypt, a nation some fear is sliding back into autocratic rule.

The Muslim Brotherhood has said it will not abandon street protests to pressure the army, which toppled Morsi on July 3, to reinstate him.

But a heavy security presence across the country served as a reminder of a crackdown in which hundreds of Morsi supporters were killed and thousands more rounded up.

The uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011 had raised hopes that Egypt would embrace democracy and human rights and eventually enjoy economic prosperity.

Instead, the power struggle between the Brotherhood and the army-backed government has created more uncertainty. The trial of Morsi and 14 other Islamists on charges of inciting violence is likely to be the next flashpoint in their confrontation. They face charges of inciting violence relating 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. The defendants could face a life sentence or death penalty if found guilty.

Morsi travelled to the heavily guarded courthouse from an undisclosed location by helicopter, state media said. The trial is taking place in the same venue where Mubarak has also been facing trial for complicity in killing protesters.

Hundreds of Morsi supporters gathered outside the building to pledge their support for the deposed leader. One sign read "The will of the people has been raped", a reference to the army takeover which followed mass protests against his rule.

Tahrir Square, where Egyptian protesters had gathered during the uprising against Mubarak, and later Morsi, was sealed off by army personnel carriers and barbed wire.

The Brotherhood had won every election since Mubarak's fall and eventually propelled Morsi into power after the Islamist movement endured repression under one dictator after another.

But millions of Egyptians who grew disillusioned with Morsi’s troubled one-year rule took to the streets this summer to demand his resignation.

The army, saying it was responding to the will of the people, deposed him and announced a political roadmap it said would lead to free and fair elections.

But the promises have not reassured Egypt's Western allies, who had hoped the stranglehold of military men would be broken.

CALL FOR PROTESTS

On the eve of Morsi’s trial, Egypt's Al Watan newspaper released a video on its website of what it said was him speaking to unidentified individuals during his incarceration.

Dressed in a tracksuit, Morsi said his overthrow was "a crime in every way". Al Watan did not say when the video was taken.

The Brotherhood has called on its supporters to stage mass protests on Monday, but the size of their demonstrations has shrunk because of heavy policing.

"We have faith that the heroic Egyptian people will not let go of their freedom, dignity and value and will instead crawl to the unfair farce of a trial," the group said in a statement.

Speaking to a local television channel, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim warned the group: "If the Brotherhood commits any violations, they will regret it."

Riot police crushed two pro- Morsi protest camps on August 14, and hundreds of Islamists have been killed and thousands arrested, including the Brotherhood's top leaders.

Egypt's oldest and most influential Islamist group has also been banned and its funds seized. Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who toppled Morsi, has become immensely popular. Few doubt his victory if he runs for president.

The Brotherhood maintains Morsi 's removal was a coup that reversed the democratic gains made after Mubarak's overthrow.

"It is clear that the goal of this trial as well as any action against the Muslim Brotherhood is to wipe out the group as well as any Islamist movements from political life," said Mohamed Damaty, a volunteer defence lawyer for Morsi.

Amnesty International said the trial was a "test for the Egyptian authorities" who should grant Morsi a fair trial.

"Failing to do so would further call into question the motives behind his trial," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Programme.

In the most senior visit to Cairo by a US official since Morsi 's fall, Secretary of State John Kerry also called for a fair, transparent trial for all Egyptians.

Egyptian officials admit the path to democracy has been rocky, but say a proper political transformation will take time.

Speaking to a news agency over phone, Osama Morsi, the deposed president's 30-year-old son, said his father had not authorised a defence lawyer and the family would not be attending the trial. "We do not acknowledge the trial. We are proud of my father and feel strong about his position."

(Agencies)

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