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Morsi jailbreak trial resumes

January 28, 2014

Mohammed Morsi has arrived in Cairo for the start of his trial on charges of a prison break during Egypt's 2011 revolution. He stands accused alongside 129 other people.

Pro-Morsi protest
Image: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the third anniversary of the breakout, the state news agency MENA reported that former President Morsi flew by helicopter from Borg al-Arab prison in Alexandria. One hundred and ten of his co-defendants, including members of the Palestinian militant group Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah, remain on the run.

Authorities accuse Morsi and the other defendants of plotting to "destroy the Egyptian state and its institutions," conspiring with the foreign groups who infiltrated the country through Gaza during the 2011 revolution and using the turmoil to organize the prison breaks.

The case has its roots in the 2011 escape of more than 20,000 inmates from Egyptian prisons, including Morsi and other Brotherhood members, during the early days of the 18-day uprising against then-President Hosni Mubarak. The prosecutors said more than 800 foreign fighters entered Egypt through Gaza to take part in storming of three prisons and killed a number of police officers and inmates.

'Denigrating' the Brotherhood

On Tuesday Morsi appeared in court for just the second time since Egypt's popularly backed July 3 military coup. Morsi, whose rule had lasted just one year, missed a January 8 hearing in another trial after security officials said bad weather grounded a helicopter meant to bring him.

A heavy security presence stood guard Tuesday as Morsi arrived at the police academy complex in eastern Cairo where he will stand trial. State television showed footage from inside the courtroom, the first live airing of proceedings against Morsi and Brotherhood.

A lawyer representing the Muslim Brotherhood has said the trial appears aimed at "denigrating" Morsi and the movement.

Multiple charges

Morsi also faces charges in three other trials. Only one of those, in which he stands accused of inciting the murder of his opponents while in office, has begun, and he is expected to appear for that on Saturday. Many of the charges he faces carry the death sentence.

In his previous appearance, Morsi insisted that he remained the country's legitimate president and challenged the legitimacy of the court, regularly interrupting the judges and prosecutors. In preparation for the Tuesday trial, authorities put up a glass window over the metal cage typically used to house defendants, apparently to stifle any disruptions.

Egypt's caretaker regime has listed the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and initiated a broad crackdown on the group. The interim government ordered the arrest of hundreds of senior officials of the Muslim Brotherhood since the July coup. Crackdowns on protests have led to the deaths of more than 1,000 of the movement's supporters.

Insult to injury

On Monday, MENA reported that Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, the head of the military and leader of the coup against Morsi, could officially announce his intention to stand in forthcoming presidential elections, expected by the end of April. According to MENA, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces "unanimously delegated" him to run during a meeting.

The former general may stand in the elections. His endorsement by military leaders came on the same day he was promoted to the rank of field marshal by acting President Adly Mansour.

On Tuesday, media reported that gunmen killed a senior police officer as he left his home in the Haram district of Giza, a Cairo neighborhood. Major General Mohammed El-Said led the Interior Ministry's technical branch, in charge of the police. The TV report did not elaborate.

mkg/kms (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)