An Egyptian court sentenced the leader of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and 682 supporters to death on Monday, intensifying a crackdown on the movement that could trigger protests and political violence ahead of an election next month.
The Brotherhood, in a statement issued in London, described the ruling as chilling and said it would “continue to use all peaceful means to end military rule”.
In another case signaling growing intolerance of dissent by military-backed authorities, a pro-democracy movement that helped ignite the uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 was banned by court order, judicial sources said.
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 forced President Mohamed Mursi from power in July.
Some Brotherhood members fear pressure from security forces and the courts could drive some young members to violence against the movement’s old enemy, the Egyptian state.
Badie, considered a conservative hardliner, was charged with crimes including inciting violence that followed the army overthrow of Mursi, who is also on trial on an array of charges.
The slight, 70-year-old veterinary professor stood trial in Cairo in a separate case hours after the sentence was affirmed.
“If they executed me one thousand times I will not retreat from the right path,” Badie was quoted as saying by lawyer Osama Mursi, who attended one of his trials in Cairo.
The comments were published on the Facebook page of Osama Mursi, son of the Brotherhood leader ousted as president.
Two security officials told Reuters that Badie appeared relaxed and joked, asking other Brotherhood members to buy him the red outfit that prisoners condemned to death wear.
Tough measures against the Brotherhood suggest the authorities still see it as a major threat, even though most of its leaders and thousands of members are behind bars.
Authorities are well aware that the movement founded in 1928 has survived repression under successive Egyptian autocrats.