529 Muslim Brotherhood Members Sentenced To Death At Once, And It's The Biggest Mass Death Sentence Egypt Has Ever Seen

Unrest is reaching boiling-point once again in Egypt. A criminal court in the city of Minya has sentenced to death 529 members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood for murder and several other charges. The entire group — supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi — were convicted of killing a single police officer; the attempted murder of two others; and attacking a police station in the city last August. This decision is the biggest mass death sentence handed down in Egypt in the country's modern history.

As well as sentencing 529, the court also acquitted 16 men. Overall, around 1,200 Muslim Brotherhood members are currently on trial. Of those sentenced Monday, only 153 are in custody; the others are in hiding. Another 700 are due to be tried on Tuesday.

The verdict was handed down quickly, at the start of the second session of the trial. According to a defense attorney, the defense was never given access to the evidence and none of the defendants or their attorneys were permitted into the court room during the verdict. Consequently, it is not clear what evidence the prosecution provided to lead to such a decision.

This mass sentencing is part of a crackdown on the opposition by Egypt's military-backed leaders, who are determined to push the judicial system toward considering support for Morsi — the country's first democratic president, who was ousted last August — as treason. The Muslim Brotherhood was officially outlawed by the Egyptian government in December.

The convicted defendants are now expected to appeal the verdict, which will go to the Grand Mufti, Egypt's supreme religious authority, who will accept or reject it. The final trial session will be held on April 28. Although there's a good chance the defendants could be acquitted, some fear that this verdict is setting a dangerous precedent.

Since the ousting of Morsi last summer, during which more than a thousand of his supporters were killed, Egyptian forces have jailed more than 16,000, not all of them outright Morsi supporters. Among them are well-known journalists, liberal activists and a large number of students.

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Egypt is awaiting the formal announcement of a presidential run by Field Marshal Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, who has heavily indicated that he will run. Sisi, the head of the Egyptian armed forces and the defense minister, led the uprising against Morsi. Several of his potential presidential opponents have already dropped out of the race, citing questionable fairness and credibility.