Egypt’s deposed President Mohamed Morsy stood trial on Tuesday — his presence inside a soundproof glass enclosure without his supporters around suggesting the rival secular military’s tightening grip over the state.
The country’s first elected President was helicoptered from a high security prison in the port city of Alexandria to face trial inside the police academy in Cairo. Along with 130 co-defendants, Mr. Morsy is accused of “carrying out a plot to bring down the Egyptian state and its institutions.”
These charges are linked to the mega-prison escape of over 20,000 inmates from three Egyptian jails during the early days of the 2011 uprising that brought down former President Hosni Mubarak. On its website, the Egyptian daily Al Ahram quoted prosecutors as saying the defendants are accused of damaging and setting fire to prison buildings, attempting to murder several people and looting prison weapons depots.
The accused have been charged with facilitating the escape of prisoners from the “Hamas movement, Lebanon’s Hizbollah, Jihadists, Brotherhood [members] and other criminals”. The trial has been adjourned to February 22.
Prosecutors claim that several policemen were killed and four abducted in connection with the jailbreaks, which materialised after 800 heavily armed fighters, infiltrating into Egypt from Gaza apparently stormed the prisons.
Mr. Morsy also faces three other separate trials, where he is accused of killing protesters, colluding with the Palestinian Hamas and the Lebanese Hizbollah to mount a terrorist campaign in Egypt. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
During his presence in the courtroom, Mr. Morsy sent mixed signals of conformity and defiance. Unlike his earlier court appearance in November when he was dressed in a business suit, the deposed President wore regular white prison clothes on Tuesday. He has also appointed Mohamed Salim El-Awa to defend him — a departure from the previous occasion when he firmly rejected the services of a lawyer.
Yet, Mr. Morsy was vociferous in rejecting the legitimacy of the trial. “I am the legitimate President of the country,” he told the court, calling the trial illegal, amid chants of, “Down with military rule” by his co-defendants. The ousted President insisted that he was a political prisoner, not a detainee.
As the trial proceeded, there were signs that the Muslim Brotherhood — Mr. Morsy’s parent organisation — had either lost steam or had shifted tactics in the wake of a harsh military crackdown against the group. Supporters of the Islamist President did not converge in the vicinity of the venue of the trial, where backers of the army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi were present in strength. However, there were clashes in downtown Cairo between Mr. Morsy’s supporters and the police, which responded to the unrest with teargas. Separately, two assailants riding a motorcycle shot dead, General Mohamed Said, an aide to Egypt’s Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim.
Mr. Morsy’s trial coincided with preparations for the candidacy of Gen. El-Sisi for the presidency. On Monday, Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) empowered the army chief and Defence Minister to run for President.