Mohammed Morsi did not look like a man
who had just spent four months in a secret prison with barely any contact with the outside world. Dressed in a dark suit and no tie, and still full of figure, he did not even look like a prisoner.
And he tried not to sound like one, either.
"What is happening now is a military coup," he bellowed shortly after entering the courtroom, in the hectoring tone that Egyptians came to lampoon during his year-long presidency. "I am furious
that the Egyptian judiciary should serve as cover for this criminal military coup."
They were his first words in public since 2 July, when he gave a rambling televised speech the night before he was deposed by the army followingdays of mass protests in which millions of Egyptians had called for the military to intervene.
On Monday he resurfaced for the preliminary hearing of his trial for incitement to murder. And his reappearance sparked bedlam. Seven of Morsi's co-defendants chanted against the army who ousted
him, local journalists shouted for his execution, and scuffles broke out between rival lawyers.
Amid the melee, Morsi and his colleagues rejected the authority of the court before the chaos forced the presiding judge to adjourn proceedings until 8 January.
The dramatic scenes followed days of uncertainty about whether Morsi would even be allowed to attend the hearing. When he finally did
appear, proceedings began in an orderly enough fashion. His co-accused gave a polite round of applause as he strode defiantly into the defendants' cage, flashing a four-fingered salute known as the
Rabaa sign that has become a calling card for Morsi supporters.
But the trial quickly descended into farce, with the defendants' legal team chanting Morsi's name and crying "the people demand the return of the president".
Morsi's co-defendants added to the chorus with chants of "down with military rule", a slogan the Muslim Brotherhood declined to use before Morsi's overthrow in a vain attempt to win over the army.
Incensed, a group of local journalists responded by shouting "execution", a reference to the death penalty some Egyptians hope awaits
Morsi and his Brotherhood allies.
Then followed a scrum of journalists – foreign and Egyptian – who clambered over the court stalls and pushed past policemen to catch their first glimpse since July of Egypt's first democratically elected president.
He appeared well, even suave in comparison to his fellow defendants, who were clad in white prison tracksuits. He did not appear to have lost weight during his spell of incarceration. Other
defendants had earlier spoken of a more difficult time in prison, with one claiming to journalists from inside the defendants' cage that most of them been tortured. The hair of Mohamed Beltagy,
once a member of parliament, had turned from black to grey.
After the room quietened enough to let the presiding judge formally begin proceedings, each defendant rejected the legitimacy of the court, arguing that they had been imprisoned on political
grounds. "I am Dr Mohamed Morsi and I am the president of the republic," shouted Morsi, when asked to identify himself. "This coup is a crime and treasonous, and the court is held responsible for
Another melee followed, with some journalists and policemen in the courtroom calling Morsi a traitor. One lawyer tried to throw a shoe, while others held up pictures of a reporter who was shot
during street clashes last December – fighting that Morsi is now accused of inciting.
Prosecutors allege that Morsi encouraged the murder of protestersdemonstrating outside Cairo's presidential palace last December, charges also faced by the 14
other senior officials from the Muslim Brotherhood.
The 15 defendants, eight of whom were absent on Monday, are accused of ordering hundreds of Brotherhood cadres to attack secular protesterscamped at a sit-in outside his presidential
palace. Those at the sit-in were demonstrating against a new constitution drafted by Morsi's allies.
The confrontation sparked night-long clashes that left at least 11 dead, some of them Brotherhood supporters, and began a spiral of political upheaval that led the army to overthrow Morsi in July
following days of mass protests.
One of the reporters calling for his execution alleged that she had been tortured by Muslim Brotherhood members during the clashes in December.
Morsi and his co-defendants say they were arrested for political reasons as a result of July's regime change. But human rights lawyers acting for those who died last December reminded journalists
during a break in proceedings that their charges were valid and predated Morsi's overthrow.
"This is not a case that has been orchestrated," said Ragia Omran, a lawyer for the victims' families. "It's important to note that we filed the charges on 5 December itself."
Pandemonium inside the court twice forced the trial's adjournment. Each time it reconvened, Morsi made a further speech. He spoke out four times in total.
"This is not a court," he said in his fourth outburst. "This court, with all due respect to the people in it, is not specialised to deal with the trial of the president of the republic. This is a
coup. I am held against my will. The coup is treasonous and a crime, and I am president of the republic."
The defendants' outbursts led to unlikely exchanges between them and the judge, Ahmed Sabry Youssef, who tried to calm them in an avuncular fashion. "Mohamed, you are not the one running the
court," Youssef told Mohamed Beltagy, another Muslim Brotherhood member, after he disrupted proceedings. "I am the one running the court."
During Morsi's final outburst, Youssef repeatedly told the former president "malesh" ("never mind") before giving up and leaving the courtroom for good. An official later announced that the next
session would be on 8 January, and said Morsi would be sent to prison instead of being held incommunicado in a military facility.
Morsi refused to give the power of attorney to the lawyer secured for him by colleagues outside prison – Selim al-Awa, a prominent Islamist thinker who also ran for president last year. But one of
the Brotherhood's legal team later grudgingly admitted that Morsi and his colleagues would have to engage with the trial.
"The defendants don't want to recognise it, but this is the de facto court," said Bahaa Abdelrahman, a lawyer acting for Essam el-Arian, a senior Brotherhood official who was arrested last week.
"And we are going to have to deal with it."