Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, center, arrives with his sons Alaa, left, and Gamal, right, to testify, in a courtroom at the National Police Academy in Cairo Image Credit: AP

Cairo: Two protagonists of Egypt's recent history faced each other in court on Wednesday, with toppled strongman Hosni Mubarak testifying for the first time against the Muslim Brotherhood's jailed former president, Mohammad Mursi.

Mubarak, 90, gave evidence for an hour and a half at the high-security prison complex in southern Cairo where Mursi is detained.

Mursi was dressed in prison overalls and seated in a thick glass and metal cage running down one side of the courtroom, like other senior figures of the Brotherhood who are defendants in the case.

Mubarak looked alert and partially grey-haired as he answered questions posed by Mohammad Sherine, the chief judge of the court session held at a police institution for security reasons.

Mubarak told the court that in the early days of the 2011 uprising, the then chief of the intelligence service Omar Sulaiman informed him that around 800 gunmen had infiltrated from Gaza Strip through tunnels into Egypt in order to help the Muslim Brotherhood in “fomenting chaos” in the country.

“The infiltrators attacked prisons and police stations. They attacked squares and opened fire from the tops of buildings,” Mubarak told the court in a televised session.

He added the infiltrators had broken into prisons and freed inmates belonging to the Brotherhood, Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement at the time when the country’s security system collapsed.

The hearing was part of a retrial in which Mursi and others are accused of orchestrating prison breaks and breaches of Egypt's eastern border during the uprising that forced Mubarak from power in February 2011.

A visibly frail Mubarak, who was given a chair at the witness stand due to his age, was asked dozens of questions by the judge about security developments as the uprising against his 30-year rule gathered pace.

Mubarak declined to answer some questions without permission from the army saying they are related to Egypt’s national security.

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“Get me permission and I’ll tell you everything,” he addressed the presiding judge.

Mubarak was himself jailed for six years following the revolution, appearing bed-bound in a courtroom cage and receiving a life prison term for conspiring to kill demonstrators. He was freed after the final charges against him were dropped in March last year.

The former president has rarely been seen in public since March 2017.

His court appearance marked Mubarak’s first encounter with Mursi, an Islamist who was ousted by the army in mid-2013 following enormous protests against his rule. Mursi and 27 other defendants mostly from his now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood are charged with orchestrating a mass jail escape during the chaos that followed the anti-Mubarak revolt. Some fugitives included members of Hamas and the Iran-allied Hezbollah movement, who were imprisoned in Egypt at the time.

In June 2015, a criminal court sentenced Mursi and other co-defendants including the Brotherhood head Mohammad Badie to death in this case. In November 2016, the Court of Cassation, Egypt’s top appeals tribunal, overturned the verdicts and ordered a retrial that started in March.