State television said judge Shaaban el-Shamy ordered a recess after the lawyers left the hearing, the first in a case in which Mohamed Morsi and 35 others are facing charges of conspiring with foreign groups and undermining national security.
Mr Shamy – who later ordered the trial to be adjourned for a week – was quoted by the private CBC TV network as telling the lawyers that the trial would proceed without them. It also reported that Morsi shouted at the start of the trial that he could not hear the proceedings.
Mr Shamy sent technicians to inspect the cage to verify Morsi’s claim, CBC said. The judge then ordered the volume raised to allow Morsi to hear more easily. But the defence team remained unsatisfied and walked out.
The cage was introduced after Morsi and his co-defendants interrupted the proceedings of other court cases by talking over the judge and chanting slogans. The cage is designed to give the judge sole control over whether the defendants can be heard.
Morsi was ousted by the military following massive protests demanding he step down after just one year in power. He and leaders of his Muslim Brotherhood now face a series of trials on a range of charges, some of which carry the death penalty.
Since Morsi was ousted, Egypt has seen almost continuous unrest. His supporters have held near daily protests demanding his reinstatement, met by a fierce security crackdown. Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands of Brotherhood members arrested. A wave of retaliatory attacks by suspected Sinai-based militants and Morsi supporters have targeted security forces.
The new government has depicted the Brotherhood as a violent movement and declared it a terrorist group. The charges involved in yesterday’s trial accuse the Brotherhood of being enmeshed with terrorists since 2005 in deals aimed at winning and holding on to power; of plotting prison breaks during the 2011 uprising that forced autocrat Hosni Mubarak from power, and of organising the Sinai militant backlash.
“The biggest case of conspiracy in Egypt’s history goes to the criminal court,” proclaimed the title of a prosecution announcement made public in December.
After being ousted, Morsi spent four months in secret military detention before he appeared in court to face charges last November of incitement to murder. In the latest trial, Morsi’s co-defendants include the top leader of the Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, and Badie’s two powerful deputies, Khairat el-Shater and Mahmoud Ezzat. Around 17 of the defendants in the case are on the run and are being tried in absentia. They include members of the Gaza-based Palestinian militant group Hamas.
In their statement, prosecutors said Morsi and 35 others created an international terrorist network linking jihadi militant groups in the region with Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, exchanging and revealing state secrets, sponsoring terrorism and carrying out training.
It accused the group of preparing an alternative plan to declare an “Islamic state” in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, where militant groups are powerful, if Morsi lost the 2012 presidential elections. Morsi narrowly won that election.
Prosecutors said their investigation also showed the Brotherhood received funds from foreign countries.