Egyptian court sentences Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood leaders to death
An Egyptian court sentenced deposed President Mohamed Morsi to death on Tuesday over a mass jail break during the country's 2011 uprising and issued sweeping punishments against the leadership of Egypt's oldest Islamic group.
Cairo — An Egyptian court sentenced deposed President Mohamed Morsi to death on Tuesday over a mass jail break during the country's 2011 uprising and issued sweeping punishments against the leadership of Egypt's oldest Islamic group.
The general guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, and four other Brotherhood leaders were also handed the death penalty. More than 80 others were sentenced to death in absentia.
The Brotherhood described the rulings as "null and void" and called for a popular uprising on Friday.
The sentences were part of a crackdown launched after an army takeover stripped Morsi of power in 2013 following mass protests against his rule. Since Morsi's overthrow, Egyptian authorities have waged a crackdown on Islamists in which hundreds have been killed and thousands arrested.
The Islamist Morsi became Egypt's first democratically elected president after the downfall of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011 but was himself overthrown by the army in 2013 after mass protests against his rule.
Judge Shaaban el-Shami, said the Grand Mufti, Egypt's top religious authority, had said in his opinion that the death sentence was permissible for the defendants who had been referred to him.
Wearing his blue prison suit, the bespectacled and bearded Islamist listened calmly as Shami read out the verdict in the case relating to the 2011 mass jail break, in which Morsi faced charges of killing, kidnapping and other offenses.
Shami had earlier given the former president a 25-year sentence in a case relating to conspiring with foreign groups.
Morsi appeared unfazed, smiling, and waving to lawyers as other defendants chanted: "Down, down with military rule," after the verdicts, which can be appealed, were read out at the court session in the Police Academy.
The rulings mark another setback for leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, and increase the chances of its youth taking up arms against the authorities, breaking what the group says is a long tradition of non-violence.
"Nail in the coffin of democracy"
The court last month convicted Morsi and his fellow defendants of killing and kidnapping policemen, attacking police facilities and breaking out of jail during the 2011 uprising against Mubarak.
Prosecutors said at the time the Brotherhood planned to send "elements" to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip for military training by Lebanon's Hezbollah group and Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
Upon their return, prosecutors said, they would join forces with militant groups in the Sinai Peninsula, the Egyptian territory that borders Israel and the Gaza Strip.
The death sentence request had drawn criticism from the United States, other Western governments and human rights groups.
After Tuesday's sentencing, a senior Muslim Brotherhood member said the trial had "fallen below all international standards."
"This verdict is a nail in the coffin of democracy in Egypt," Yahya Hamid, a former minister in Morsi's cabinet and head of international relations for the Brotherhood, told a news conference in Istanbul.
Western diplomats say Egyptian officials have acknowledged that executing Morsi would risk turning him into a martyr. The Brotherhood, the Middle East's oldest Islamist group, has survived decades of repression, maintaining popular support through its charities.
Morsi, Badie and 15 others were given life sentences - which under Egyptian law, means serving 25 years - for conspiring with the Palestinian group Hamas, which rules Gaza. They included senior Brotherhood figures Essam el-Erian and Saad el-Katatni.
The court sentenced Muslim Brotherhood leaders Khairat el-Shater, Mohamed el-Beltagy and Ahmed Abdelaty to death in the same case. Death sentences were also handed to 13 other defendants in absentia.
In reading his verdict, Shami said that the Brotherhood had a history of "grabbing power with any price" and had "legalized the bloodletting of the sons of this country and conspired and collaborated with foreign entities .... to achieve their diabolical aims."
"We were expecting all these verdicts today," lawyer Mohamed Shibl, who defended Beltagy, told Reuters.
Badie already has a death sentence against him and Morsi has a 20-year sentence in yet another case.
Morsi has said the court is not legitimate, describing legal proceedings against him as part of a coup led by former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in 2013. Morsi's court-appointed leader, Samir Mahfouz, said the would appeal the death sentence verdict.
Sisi, now president, says the Brotherhood poses a grave threat to national security. The group maintains it is committed to peaceful activism.
Despite U.S. lawmakers' concerns that Egypt is lagging on democratic reforms, Cairo remains one of Washington's closest security allies in the region.
Relations cooled after Morsi was overthrown but ties with Sisi have steadily improved.
In late March, U.S. President Barack Obama lifted a hold on a supply of arms to Cairo, authorizing deliveries of U.S. weapons valued at over $1.3 billion.
Islamic militant groups stepped up attacks against soldiers and police since Morsi's fall, killing hundreds.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein and Mohamed Abdellah Writing by Yara Bayoumy, Editing by Angus MacSwan and Dominic Evans)