Standing in a soundproof glass cage, deposed President Mohamed Morsi made his second public appearance since his July ouster on Tuesday in the first session of what his lawyers described as a “show trial.”
Along with 130 others, Morsi is charged with helping to facilitate a mass prison break from the Wadi al-Natrun prison in January 2011, where he himself had been incarcerated.
“I’ve been in this cell since 7 pm last night. Tell me who you are,” Morsi angrily demanded of the judge at the beginning of the session.
“I’m the president of the republic […] What court [is this] that I can’t hear and it can’t hear me?”
The two soundproof glass cages sealing off Morsi and 21 other defendants from the rest of the court were the primary focus of the hearing.
The other group of defendants, including the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, preceded Morsi and entered the larger cage first, gesturing through the glass and metal barriers but remaining unheard.
It was only when they chanted loudly that they became audible to the small crowd of journalists, lawyers and police officers present at the Police Academy hall hosting the high-profile trial.
“This newly introduced procedure, regardless of the security and political justifications, constitutes a grave violation of the guarantees of a fair trial and the defendant’s right to defend himself in person or through proxy,” defense lawyer Kamel Mandour argued to the court, claiming the inability of the defendants to communicate to the lawyers or judges rendered the session “null and void.”
In previous hearings, Morsi and other Brotherhood members took the opportunity of appearing publicly to make political statements and chant against military rule. Morsi’s first public appearance after his July 3 ouster was on November 4, and he used it as a platform to condemn what he called the coup that removed him from power, and to assert he was still the legitimate president of Egypt.
These exhortations, as well as interruptions from others in the court, prompted the judge to swiftly adjourn the hearing.
The judge mitigated that problem on Tuesday by simply switching off the sound from the glass cage whenever the defendants’ statements were deemed too long or chanting was disruptive.
“Do you want me to allow this noise?” Judge Shaaban al-Shamy told the lawyers objecting to the glass docks.
“We feel this is a show trial,” lawyer Mohamed al-Damaty told the court, citing an alleged attack on the defense team on the way to the court and numerous bureaucratic obstacles.
“We don’t accept this. This phrase is rejected,” Judge Shamy said, striking the words “show trial” from the record during one of several altercations that marked the five-hour-long session.
Damaty continued to argue that “the trial proceeds under extremely complex circumstances,” pointing to the recent government decision to list the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, thus implicating “anyone who defends it.”
The judge allowed three lawyers to meet with Morsi during an hour-long recess — their first meeting with him since November 12. Their talk seemed to calm tensions during the second part of the session, during which Morsi and former Muslim Brotherhood MP Mohamed al-Beltagy were given the floor to speak before the judge eventually muted their microphones.
“I’ve agreed with lawyer Mohamed Selim al-Awa to give the court — when he sees that it’s following the correct procedures — the sufficient explanation of my constitutional stance as the president of Egypt,” Morsi declared.
He had earlier asserted that he did not accept the court’s legitimacy or jurisdiction to try him, and also refused legal representation in another ongoing trial.
Awa, who was not present on Tuesday, argued last November that the 2012 Constitution specified the means of putting a president on trial and the types of courts entitled to do so, conditions which he said were not fulfilled by Egypt’s criminal courts.
Morsi is also currently standing trial in two other cases — one for inciting the killing and torture of protesters at the Ettehadiya Presidential Palace in December 2012, and the other for communicating and colluding with foreign powers to commit acts of terrorism in what the interim government calls “the biggest spying case in Egypt’s history,” a trial scheduled to start on February 16.
Lawyers have described the charges as “ridiculous.” They contribute to a narrative that contextualizes acts of violence and clashes with security forces during the 2011 revolution as part of a foreign conspiracy against Egypt.
Tuesday’s hearing coincided with the third anniversary of the January 28, 2011 “Friday of Rage,” which saw fierce clashes between protesters and the police across the country, prompting military intervention. The security vacuum resulting from the disappearance of police forces from the streets left the country in a political and economic turmoil from which it is still struggling to recover.
On Tuesday, the prosecution argued that 71 Palestinians and 800 men affiliated with Hamas and Hezbollah had broken into several Egyptian prisons, killing inmates and police officers and freeing Morsi along with over 20,000 others.
“This is a farce. The prosecution is saying that from January 25 to January 30  we were under the occupation of Palestinians and Lebanese who had complete control over 60 km of Egypt’s eastern border,” Beltagy told the court.
He argued that if security and intelligence agencies had known about this and failed to inform the public, or to stop the alleged “march” on the capital and other provinces as described by the prosecution, then such agencies were complicit in those very crimes.
Pointing to his co-defendants sitting on benches, Beltagy asked if the military and general intelligence services knew about their crimes, then why were they allowed to run for parliament and write a constitution?
“We’ve asked you about these crimes and you refused to answer,” one of the five prosecutors replied in anger.
“This is a political trial,” Beltagy declared, adding that he has been on a hunger strike for 22 days to object to the “inhumane conditions” of his detention.
The trial was then adjourned to February 22.