The former president’s supporters swiftly cast doubt on authorities’ claim, aired on state television, that weather had prevented him from being transported to Cairo from the port city of Alexandria. The timing of Wednesday’s session was sensitive, coming less than a week before a nationwide constitutional referendum.
The military-backed interim government hopes that vote will put a stamp of legitimacy on the coup that ousted Morsi more than six months ago. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood has called for a boycott.
A court appearance by Morsi on Wednesday would have been only the second public glimpse of the former president since he was deposed in early July, and his first since Egyptian authorities branded the Brotherhood a terrorist organization last month. A show of renewed defiance from Morsi could have served to energize his beleaguered followers.
The terrorist designation, made two weeks ago, expanded what had already been a sweeping crackdown on the Islamist group, the oldest and largest movement of its kind in Egypt. Thousands of its followers have been killed or jailed since July.
Ahead of the start of Wednesday’s proceedings, a few pro-Morsi demonstrators gathered at the closest spot to the court’s entrance that they could approach — a barbed-wire barricade about 100 yards from the gates of the complex — but the protest was swiftly broken up by riot police.
One teenager in a red sweatshirt was caught in a chokehold by a riot policeman, and an older man panted heavily as he was dragged along after being chased and seized by plainclothes police. The only demonstrator who left unmolested was a stocky woman in a shirt emblazoned with the image of Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi, the army chief who carried out the coup after enormous protests demanding Morsi’s removal.
Another pro-Morsi protest more distant from the police complex was dispersed by police firing tear gas.
The trial’s opening session, in November, was hastily adjourned after Morsi and his co-defendants disrupted the proceedings by shouting at the judge that they did not recognize the court’s authority. Morsi opponents inside the courtroom added to the pandemonium by yelling demands for his execution.
Morsi is also to face charges in two other separate court cases. Authorities have lodged multiple charges against him, several of which could carry the death penalty.