An Egyptian court recommended the death penalty for 683 individuals, who all happen to be affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, the main opposition to the ruling military-backed government. Among those condemned is beloved Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Mohamed Badie. It's not the first time the court has doled out the harsh sentence to hundreds of people at a time, and for nakedly political reason.
Those found guilty have been charged with contributing to the death of a police officer during a raid on a police station in August. But their individual crimes were all relatively minor, like committing acts of violence or inciting violence, and none of the 683 was charged with participating in the officer's murder. Badie, in fact, was advocating for nonviolence during the tumultuous aftermath of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's ouster.
Badie also happened to be in a different city during the incident. The New York Times reports:
Mr. Badie was in Cairo at the time of the attacks, and he repeatedly emphasized nonviolence in his public remarks in the period leading up the crackdown and the backlash against it. “Our peacefulness is stronger than their bullets,” he declared in a speech at the main Cairo sit-in, a phrase that became a Brotherhood rallying cry. It was unclear what basis the court found for linking him to the attacks.
The trial itself lasted a matter of minutes, and most of the accused were tried in absentia. The Financial Times reports that the judge refused to hear witnesses.
A few months ago, the same Egyptian court recommended death as a punishment for 529 people in a similarly speedy trial for the same officer's death. Only 37 of those sentences were upheld, however — most of the others were sentenced to life in prison, or about 25 years. The punishments handed out today will be sent to review by Egypt's grand mufti and are also open to appeal.
If Badie is put to death, it will be the first execution of a spiritual leader in decades. Again, the New York Times:
Mr. Badie, 70, who trained as a veterinarian and is known as the group’s supreme guide, is revered by hundreds of thousands of Islamists around Egypt as a religious authority and teacher. If carried out, his death sentence would mark the first execution by Egypt of a supreme guide in more than six decades of often bloody attempts to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood.
The trial come as part of a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood by the secular interim government that has been in place since Morsi was deposed in July. Elections are set to be held at the end of next month, even though the MB has officially been banned and labeled a terrorist group.