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Judges quit trial of Muslim Brotherhood leader, aides

Defendants not allowed to hear charges in court

Setohy Abdel Rahman held a portrait of his son Ahmed, killed during clashes, at a trial of Muslim Brotherhood leaders.

GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images

Setohy Abdel Rahman held a portrait of his son Ahmed, killed during clashes, at a trial of Muslim Brotherhood leaders.

CAIRO — The judges presiding over the trial of nearly three dozen members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, including its top leader, stepped down Tuesday after security agencies refused to let the defendants attend the courtroom sessions, judicial officials said.

The move represented a sharp pushback from within the establishment over the conduct of the trial amid criticism by the Brotherhood that wide-ranging prosecutions of its leaders, including ousted President Mohammed Morsi and group leader Mohammed Badie, are only vengeful show trials.

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Separately, a Brotherhood-led Islamist coalition said that Morsi refuses to appoint a lawyer to represent him in his trial, which is due to start on Nov. 4, because he does not recognize the tribunal or the political system in place since his ouster. Both trials are centered on charges the defendants incited deadly violence.

The Morsi and Badie tribunals are part of a string of trials that Egypt’s current military-backed administration is carrying out as part of a heavy crackdown on the Brotherhood since the July 3 coup that removed Morsi. The authorities are seeking through the prosecutions to show that the Brotherhood fueled violence during Morsi’s one-year presidency and after the coup — and to give legal justification for imprisoning its leaders.

Amid the violence surrounding the crackdown and a wave of arrests of thousands of Brotherhood supporters, calls for reconciliation that would return the group — which dominated elections after the 2011 fall of Hosni Mubarak — back into the political system have gone nowhere, with neither side giving ground.

The interim deputy prime minister, who has been one of the most vocal advocates of reaching a resolution, said the Brotherhood must renounce violence and accept the military-backed road map for the country’s transition. He criticized the group for making no concessions.

‘‘There has not been even a signal from the Muslim Brotherhood that it accepts,’’ Ziad Bahaa-Eldin said in a briefing with a small group of journalists.

The Brotherhood and allied Islamists have rejected the new government and stuck to their demand that Morsi be reinstated in office. They have continued protests, often leading to clashes with security forces that have killed well over 1,000 people. The Brotherhood says its protests are peaceful, but authorities accuse them of attacking security forces and provoking violence.

The resignation of the three-judge panel overseeing the trial of Badie and 34 other Brotherhood members was an implicit, but sharp criticism of the fairness of the prosecutions.

The judges did not give their reason for stepping aside, saying only in a statement read by judge Mohammed el-Qarmouti that they ‘‘felt uneasiness’’ over the proceedings, according to a court official.

But a judicial official said the judges were concerned that without the defendants attending, the trial would ‘‘be held just on paper.’’ The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press. The judges’ move forces the trial to start over.

So far, in the trial’s two sessions — the first in August — none of the defendants has attended, apparently out of inability to ensure their safety or fear that Brotherhood supporters would hold protests outside the Cairo Criminal Court.

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