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Egyptian Court Sentences Ousted President Morsi To Death

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

An Egyptian court has sentenced Mohammed Morsi to death. The ousted president of Egypt was sentenced along with 100 other defendants for their role in mass jailbreaks during the 2011 uprising against Egypt's then-President Hosni Mubarak. The former Muslim Brotherhood leader is already serving for ordering the arrest and torture of protestors during his time in power. He was deposed by the military in July of 2013 following mass street protests against his rule. And since then, authorities have banned his Muslim Brotherhood movement and arrested thousands of his supporters. We're joined now by The London Times correspondent in Cairo, Bel Trew. Thanks so much for being with us.

BEL TREW: Good morning.

SIMON: What did you see in court today?

TREW: Well, it was a pretty boisterous session in court today as they had about 27 different defendants in what is basically a sealed, soundproof caged dock, who are part of the two cases being stuck together with the verdict sessions today. So most of the leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood are present, as well as Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's toppled president. And they were chanting against the military and holding up the four-fingered salute to Rabba - basically, a symbol representing the pro-Morsi supporters who've died in the last two years since he was pushed from power. They were shouting at the judge as the judge announced the verdict that Mohammed Morsi would be sentenced to death and around a hundred others in these two cases. And they basically chanted against the military and called Mohammed Morsi the president of Egypt.

SIMON: Was this sentence more or less preordained?

TREW: Well, there has been a lot of criticism of the Egyptian court system, calling it politicized. You've already had international rights groups come out criticizing the verdict, saying that Egypt is using death penalties as a way of purging the opposition. We know that Mr. Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood group has been designated a terrorist organization. Hundreds have been killed and thousands have been jailed and many, many have been given death sentences before him. These two cases, where he's charged with espionage and prison break, they were expected to see it result in death sentences because they're such serious charges and because of the sort of political background here, in the sense that the - you know, the government here is quite keen to silence the Muslim Brotherhood and keep Mr. Morsi behind bars at least for the rest of his life.

SIMON: Now, I understand that all death sentences have to be sent on for approval, if you please, to the grand mufti, Egypt's highest religious authority? Would Egypt's rulers be worried about public reaction if Mr. Morsi were executed and might that execution order once it's delivered be stayed?

TREW: Well, as you correctly mentioned and under Egyptian law, all death sentences have to be referred to the grand mufti for his consideration. Now, this is not a legally-binding opinion. But the judges do take into consideration and his comments on the death sentences and the evidence, which he goes through, before they give the final verdict and say yes, he will be sentenced to death. Now, the authorities may well be anxious that, you know, executing Mohammed Morsi would turn him into a martyr and possibly spark protests across Egypt and internationally because it's such a dramatic action to take given that he was Egypt's first democratically-elected president. And the man who oversaw his ousting, Abdel Fattah Sisi, is currently president. And we'll have to see how it goes, but we will have to wait for that final verdict just to see whether, you know, the courts will at least start step one of the death sentences.

SIMON: Bel Trew is Cairo correspondent for The Times of London, speaking with us from Cairo about the death sentence delivered today by an Egyptian court against Mohammed Morsi. Thanks very much for being with us.

TREW: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.