Two former Egyptian presidents appeared Wednesday in the same Cairo courtroom, with Hosni Mubarak testifying in a retrial of Mohammed Morsi over charges related to prison breaks at the height of the 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak.
The 90-year-old Mubarak, whose nearly three-decade rule was ended by a popular uprising in 2011, could be seen walking into the courtroom with a cane along with his two sons Alaa and Gamal. He was wearing a dark blue suit with a dark tie. The hearing took place amid heavy security in a police facility in a southern Cairo suburb.
Morsi, 67, and the Muslim Brotherhood swiftly rose to power in elections after Mubarak’s ouster, only to find themselves imprisoned a year later when millions protested against them for abuse of power, leading the military to overthrow the government. The jailed former leader is implicated in four lengthy trials pertaining to different cases against him, that vary from undermining national security by conspiring with foreign groups and orchestrating a prison break.
Wednesday’s case is rooted in the 2011 escape of more than 20,000 inmates from Egyptian prisons — including Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood members — during the early days of the 18-day uprising against Mubarak. Morsi and the other Brotherhood leaders escaped two days after they were detained as Mubarak’s security forces tried to undercut the planned protests.
At the time, authorities also cut off internet access and mobile phone networks, crippling communication among the protesters and with the outside world.
In June 2015, the Cairo Criminal Court issued sentences of death and life imprisonment against Morsi and other key figures of the Brotherhood. However, in November 2016, the Court of Cassation, Egypt’s final recourse for appeals in criminal cases, annulled the sentence and ordered a retrial of the defendants.
In a two-hour testimony, Mubarak said Wednesday that former spy chief and vice president Omar Suleiman told him on January 29, 2011, that at least 800 armed people had crossed into the norther part of Sinai Peninsula, through tunnels from the Gaza Strip, with help from the Muslim Brotherhood group.
“They entered Egypt through Gaza and had weapons. … They headed toward the prisons to release prisoners belonging to Hezbollah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood,” Mubarak said, referring to Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group and Hamas terrorists who have ruled Gaza since 2007.
According to the Ynet news site Mubarak also claimed Egyptian authorities were unaware at the time of the existence of the smuggling tunnels from Gaza to Sinai.
Gazans use such tunnels to smuggle goods and weapons into the Palestinian enclave that has been under Israeli and Egyptian blockade for a decade, following Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip and its use of the area as a launchpad for attacks on Israel.
It is also a conduit for Islamic terrorists who are operating in the Sinai against Egyptian forces.
Egypt in recent years has all but destroyed the once-thriving network of cross-border smuggling tunnels used by Hamas — robbing the group of its main economic lifeline and a key source of weapons.
During the hearing, Mubarak refused to answer most questions, saying he needed permission from the military and President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who led the military’s 2013 ouster of Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president. Sissi has since overseen a massive crackdown on Morsi’s supporters, jailing thousands of them along with secular activists behind the 2011 uprising.
Mubarak was freed last year, ending nearly six years of legal proceedings against him. He was acquitted by the country’s top appeals court of charges that he ordered the killing of protesters during the 2011 uprising.
Mubarak has already served a three-year sentence for embezzling state funds.
Morsi, who was in a white jumpsuit, refused to question Mubarak. The chief judge adjourned the hearings until January 24.