MINYA (Egypt) - An Egyptian court has sentenced the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and 682 of its supporters to death, intensifying a crackdown on the movement that could trigger protests and political violence ahead of an election next month.
The death sentence passed on Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood's general guide, will infuriate members of the group which has been the target of raids, arrests and bans since the army ousted president Mohamed Mursi from power in July last year.
The verdict, after a trial lasting only a few minutes, came just a month after the same judge drew condemnation for sentencing 529 other people to death in a similarly lightning-fast mass trial.
Judge Sayedd Yousef also affirmed the death sentences yesterday of about 40 of the defendants in that mass trial and commuted the others to life in prison, which is understood in Egypt to mean 25 years.
The judge is expected to confirm the latest batch of death sentences on June 21.
The speed and scale of the sentences, in defiance of international outrage at the earlier one, appeared to underscore the judiciary's energetic support for the new military-led government's sweeping crackdown on its political opponents, including Islamist supporters of the ousted president as well as more liberal groups.
Under Egyptian law, death sentences are referred to the country's top Islamic scholar for an advisory opinion before being ratified. A court may choose to commute sentences.
In a separate ruling yesterday, a Cairo court banned the activities of the April 6 Youth Movement, a liberal organisation that spearheaded the revolt against president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
The group continued its work opposing police brutality and pushing for democratic reforms under Mr Mursi. It has continued to defend the right to dissent since his military ouster.
If carried out, Badie's 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.
A supreme guide was sentenced to death when president Gamal Abdel Nasser took power in 1954, but this was commuted to life in prison. He was ultimately released.
Although the Brotherhood was not formally legalised until after the 2011 revolt, the group integrated itself into Egyptian civil society during Mr Mubarak's three decades in power. It ran schools, hospitals and charities, and fielded candidates who formed an opposition bloc in Parliament dominated by Mr Mubarak's party.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES