Muslim Brotherhood supporters shout slogans during a recent
protest in Matarya area, east of Cairo. REUTERS/Al Youm Al
An Egyptian court has sentenced 529 members of the
outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to death for murder and other
offences in a sharp escalation of a crackdown on the movement
that is likely to fuel instability.
Family members stood outside the courthouse screaming after
the verdict, which defence lawyers called the biggest mass
death sentence handed out in Egypt's modern history.
Turmoil has deepened since the army overthrew Egypt's first
freely elected president, Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim
Brotherhood, in July. Security forces have killed hundreds of
Brotherhood members in the streets and arrested thousands.
Human rights groups said the verdict suggested the
authorities intended to tighten their squeeze on the
opposition. The US State Department said it was shocked by
the death sentences.
State television reported the sentences without comment. A
government spokesman did not immediately respond to calls and
several government officials said they could not comment on
"The court has decided to sentence to death 529 defendants,
and 16 were acquitted," defence lawyer Ahmed al-Sharif told
Reuters. The condemned men can appeal against the ruling.
Most of the defendants at Monday's (local time) hearing were
detained and charged with carrying out attacks during clashes
that erupted in the southern province of Minya after the
forced dispersal of two Muslim Brotherhood protest camps in
Cairo on Aug. 14.
"We did not expect such a brutal sentence. But at the same
time this military regime just wants to kill anybody who
wants to express an opinion," Sayaf Gamal, one of the
Brotherhood members sentenced to death, said by telephone. He
is on the run.
"They are willing to kill everybody so that there is no
freedom of expression," Gamal said.
"We're certainly raising it with the Egyptian government ...
it's a pretty shocking number," State Department spokeswoman
Marie Harf said of the sentences. "It defies logic that over
529 defendants could be tried in a two-day period in
accordance with international standards."
Harf added that the United States still considered its ties
with Egypt to be important and added: "We don't want to
completely cut off the relationship."
'THE QUICKEST CASE'
Islamist militants have stepped up assaults on the police and
army since Mursi's ouster, killing hundreds and carrying out
high-profile operations against senior Interior Ministry
The Muslim Brotherhood, which has been largely driven
underground, responded to the death sentences by calling for
the "downfall of military rule" on its official website.
Mohamed Mahsoub, who served as minister of legal affairs
under Mursi, used his Facebook page to describe the court's
decision as "a ruling calling for the execution of justice".
Supporters set fire to a nearby school in protest, state
television reported, although security officials said they
had received no reports of unrest.
The charges against the group on trial in Minya since
Saturday include violence, inciting murder, storming a police
station, attacking persons and damaging public and private
"This is the quickest case and the number sentenced to death
is the largest in the history of the judiciary," said lawyer
Nabil Abdel Salam, who defends some Brotherhood leaders
"A second year student in the faculty of law would never
issue this verdict. There are a lot of flaws in this verdict.
I think maybe an appeal could be successful but nothing is
predictable," said Mohamed Zaree, program manager for the
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
H.A. Hellyer, an Egypt expert and fellow at the Brookings
Institution US think tank, said he doubted the sentences
would be carried out. "Nevertheless, the very issuing of the
sentence itself is quite significant," he added.
On Tuesday, Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie
and 682 others will face trial on charges of incitement to
Only 123 of the defendants were in court. The rest were
either released, out on bail or in hiding.
"When the trial starts on Saturday and it is just a
procedural hearing, and the judge doesn't listen to any
lawyers or witnesses and doesn't even call the defendants,
you are before a group of thugs and not the judiciary,"
Walid, a relative of one of the defendants, said by phone.
It was not possible to confirm his account of the proceedings
The government has declared the Brotherhood a "terrorist"
group, but the group says it is committed to peaceful
Analysts say some of its members could turn violent if the
state keeps up pressure on the movement, which won the vast
majority of elections since a popular uprising toppled
autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Egyptian authorities make no distinction between the
Brotherhood and hardcore militant groups based in the Sinai
peninsula that pose a major security challenge to the state
despite army offensives against their fighters.
Mursi, Mubarak's successor as president, and other top
Brotherhood leaders are on trial on a range of charges and
accuse the military of staging a coup and undermining
The army says it was acting on behalf of the Egyptian people,
who took to the streets in their millions to call for Mursi's