CAIRO— Ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi protested defiantly from a soundproof glass and metal cage as he went on trial Tuesday in Cairo on charges connected with a mass jail break during the 2011 uprising against long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
The court session comes as General Abdel Fatteh el-Sissi, the defense minister who toppled Morsi in July, got the army's blessing for a bid to replace him as president.
Video showed Morsi dressed in a white jumpsuit angrily shouting "Who are you? Tell me!" at the courtroom judge, who yelled back "I am the president of Egypt’s criminal court!"
The microphone in Morsi's cage was then turned off.
The prosecutor read out the charges against Morsi and his co-defendants Tuesday, detailing the allegations of the wide-scale prison break during the January 2011 revolution. Defendants from the Palestinian Hamas group and Lebanon's Hezbollah were among those accused.
Morsi supporters in the audience chanted briefly as the charges were announced, claiming that the trial was “illegal.” It was different from the many disruptions by defendants during the initial session last December. That session was stopped after the judges resigned.
The former president, making his second public appearance since his ouster, is being tried along with 130 people, including leaders of his Muslim Brotherhood.
Media reports say Morsi was flown by helicopter to the trial from his prison in Alexandria at an undisclosed time. Analysts say the government was worried attackers might try to blow up the helicopter transporting him.
Earlier Tuesday, assassins shot and killed a top interior ministry official, General Mohamed Sa'eed, outside his Cairo home, before the trial began. Militants also blew up a natural gas pipeline in the northern Sinai. A bomb placed near a Cairo court, however, was found and defused.
Said Sadek, who teaches political sociology, says that both the recent referendum to approve a new constitution and the probable candidacy of Defense Minister Abdel Fatteh el-Sissi appear to have dealt a damaging blow to the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies.
"Now we are getting into a new game and a new legitimacy, new political rules, and so of course that depressed and demoralized the supporters of Morsi because they felt now the die is cast, there is nothing to be done,” he said.
Sadek adds that “frustration and disappointment” may lead many Morsi supporters to turn to violence, but he does not believe this will “change history.” He argues that the coalition which united on June 30 to oust Morsi is a strong core of Egyptian society which includes “the middle class, the upper class, businessmen, the so-called “deep state” and the military,” and it remains more versatile than the Muslim Brotherhood.
The next session of Morsi's trial has been pushed up to Feb. 22.
The former president's second trial for allegedly inciting violence against anti-government protesters in 2012 is due to resume Saturday, after being postponed twice since it opened in November.
A third case focuses on charges that he insulted the judiciary and a fourth deals with charges of espionage in collaboration with Hamas. It was not immediately clear if a Feb. 14 trial date for the espionage charges of “conspiring with outside parties” will go ahead as scheduled.
Egypt's military removed Morsi from office last July, and authorities have spent months cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood, including arresting many of its leaders and declaring it a terrorist group.
Some information for this report comes from Reuters, AP.