CAIRO - An Egyptian court sentenced 10 supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to death in absentia on Saturday but postponed sentencing of its leader and other senior members tried in the case, judicial sources said.
Those sentenced were convicted on charges including inciting violence and blocking a major road north of Cairo during protests after the army toppled Islamist President Mohamed Morsi last July.
All 10 were assumed to be in hiding amid a state crackdown on the group since Morsi’s ouster. One of those sentenced was Abdul Rahman al-Barr, a member of the Brotherhood’s Guidance Council, the movement’s executive board. Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud, a well-known Salafi preacher who fled to Qatar after Morsi was toppled, was also sentenced in absentia. Death sentence recommendations in Egypt are passed on to the country’s grand mufti, the highest religious authority, for his review. The court can ignore his opinion and its rulings can be appealed.
Meanwhile, an Egyptian court Saturday postponed to July 5 the verdict in the trial of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie and 37 others for inciting violence that killed two people last summer.
But it sentenced to death 10 defendants who are on the run, and a final ruling on their cases is expected the same day once they are reviewed.
After the army ousted Islamist Mohamed Morsi last July, Badie was one of thousands of the deposed president’s supporters arrested in a crackdown that also left more than 1,400 dead. He is being tried in nearly 40 cases, all of which potentially carry the death penalty, and has already been sentenced to die in one case.
In April, a court in the city of Minya sentenced him and nearly 700 alleged Morsi supporters to hang over the murder and attempted murder of policemen. A final ruling in those sentences is expected on June 21.
Egypt has banned unauthorised preachers from giving sermons or teaching Islam in mosques and other public places, according to a decree on Saturday marking a further step in official efforts to curb Islamist influence.
The decree issued by interim President Adly Mansour’s office also threatened fines and jail for freelance imams, especially if they wore clerical garments associated with the respected Al-Azhar centre of Sunni learning in Cairo. Selected employees of the religious endowments ministry will be empowered by the justice ministry to arrest anyone caught violating the decree, it added.
“No preacher will mount a minbar next Friday without a permit,” the ministry said on its Facebook page, referring to the traditional raised pulpit in a mosque. The decision was taken to “preserve national security,” it said. The military-backed government sees mosques as recruiting grounds for Islamist parties and has moved to bring them under tighter control since the army toppled President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood last July.
It said in April it had licensed more than 17,000 state-approved clerics to give Friday sermons to stop mosques from falling “into the hands of extremists.” It also disclosed it had removed 12,000 unapproved preachers . Many Egyptians pray at small neighbourhood mosques beyond the control of the state, where outsiders can easily move in to take over and preach their brand of Islam.
The Muslim Brotherhood , until last year Egypt’s best-organised movement, has been driven underground, with most of its leaders in jail or in hiding. It denies any involvement in lethal attacks on security forces since Mursi’s overthrow. According to the decree, “only designated specialists at the Ministry of Religious Endowments and authorised preachers from al-Azhar shall be permitted to practice public preaching and religious lessons in mosques or similar public places.”
Only al-Azhar officials and graduates as well preachers from the ministry or the grand mufti’s office will be allowed to wear the trademark “turban” - a red hat with a white cloth band - and robes that designate an al-Azhar cleric, it said. Unauthorised preachers face fines jail terms up to a year and fines up to 50,000 Egyptian pounds ($7,000). Wearing or denigrating al-Azhar garments in any way will carry similar penalties, it added.
Galal Mora, secretary-general of the Nour Party, an Islamist group that backed the army’s removal of Mursi, told Reuters the group approved of the law and urged respect for it. The religious endowments ministry has been keeping a close eye on authorised imams as well. The state news agency MENA reported on Saturday that it had removed three government appointed imams from their positions in Minya province.


Death sentences in Egypt are referred to the country’s top Islamic scholar for an advisory opinion before being ratified. A court may choose to commute the sentences, which can later be challenged in an appeals court.
Defendants tried in absentia also get an automatic retrial if they are ever arrested.
In Saturday’s case, Badie is accused of inciting violence in which two people were killed in the Nile Delta city of Qaliub, only days after the military ousted Morsi on July 3.
He faces charges of inciting murder, inciting the spread of chaos, and inciting attacks on public and private properties, defence lawyer Mohamed Abou Leila said. Saturday’s hearing was raucous, with the 38 defendants in custody, including Badie, chanting anti-military slogans as soon as they entered the dock.
Defence lawyer Ali Kamal said the death sentences “were expected, given the general climate that (encourages) abuses against the defendants.”
“The prosecution do not provide evidence but the judiciary continues to issue strong rulings”, he added.
Other defendants include senior Brotherhood official Mohamed al-Beltagui, well-known preacher Safwat Hegazy, two former Morsi cabinet ministers and two ex-MPs from the Brotherhood .
After the hearing, Beltagui told reporters that ex-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, “will be ruined by ruling Egypt .”
Sisi, who led Morsi’s ouster, was elected president last week and is expected to be sworn in Sunday.
Along with Morsi, Badie, Beltagui and Hegazy are being tried on separate charges of mass prison breaks and attacks on police during the 2011 uprising that toppled strongman Hosni Mubarak.
Morsi is due in a separate court in that case Saturday.
He also faces charges of espionage in collaboration with the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, and is on trial for inciting the killing of opposition protesters in December 2012 outside the presidential palace.
In March, the same court that sentenced Badie to death triggered an international outcry when it handed down the same sentence for 529 alleged Morsi supporters on similar charges. The judge subsequently upheld only 37 of those sentenced and commuted the rest to life in prison.