CAIRO — An Egyptian court on Thursday set Jan. 28 as opening day for the third trial of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi — this one on charges of organizing prison breaks with the help of foreign militants, a judge said.
Symbolically, the trial date falls on the third anniversary of the day when Morsi and more than 30 others from his Muslim Brotherhood group, who were jailed at the time, escaped from a Cairo prison.
The jailbreaks came during the 2011 uprising against Morsi's predecessor, the autocratic Hosni Mubarak, and saw more than 20,000 inmates flee from prisons across Egypt, including members of foreign militant groups the Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian militant Hamas.
That Jan. 28, 2011, — dubbed the Day of Rage for mass protests against Mubarak's notorious police — also marked the collapse of the regime's security apparatus as policemen withdrew from the streets.
Judge Medhat Idriss said on Thursday that the Cairo Appeals Court set Jan. 28 as the date for the trial, though it was not immediately clear if the date's symbolism was intentional.
Morsi, who in 2012 became Egypt's first freely elected president but who was ousted in a popularly-backed coup last July, faces three trials on sweeping charges, most of which carry the death penalty and range from conspiring with foreign groups to inciting violence that led to the killings of protesters during his year in power.
Morsi and 130 others — all except 22 of whom are on the run — were referred to court in the latest case that piles on the legal onslaught facing the ousted Islamist president and his Brotherhood. The defendants include more than 70 Palestinians and 2 Lebanese, as well as top Brotherhood figures such as the group's spiritual guide, Mohammed Badie.
Authorities claim the jailbreaks were part of an organized effort to destabilize Egypt. The investigation into the case started in April, and prosecutors said it showed the Brotherhood had plotted with foreign groups to "destroy the Egyptian state and its institutions."
According to the prosecution, the Brotherhood allegedly recruited about 800 militants from the neighboring, Hamas-run Gaza Strip, to attack police stations and at least three prisons in Egypt, breaking out thousands of prisoners and killing police officers and inmates.
Rights groups have called for an independent investigation into the chaotic events, saying they hold the police responsible for the pandemonium around the jailbreaks.