CAIRO — An Egyptian court signaled on Thursday that it wanted death sentences for the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and 13 other defendants charged with murder and firearms possession, when it referred the case to the country's religious authorities.
Judicial sources said a judge at a court session held at a Cairo police institute had referred all 14 of the defendants to the Mufti, the highest Islamic legal official, who must give an opinion on death sentences before they can be confirmed. The court's final decision is expected on Aug. 3.
More than a thousand suspected supporters of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood have already been given death sentences this year which were referred to the Mufti. Their cases have provoked outrage among rights groups and Western governments.
Thirty-seven of the sentences have been upheld, and more than six hundred others are awaiting a final decision. But so far none of the sentences has been carried out.
The court decision came less than two weeks after former army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sissi took office as president. Sissi ousted President Mohamed Morsi of the Brotherhood last July.
Morsi's ouster was followed by the bloodiest period in Egypt's modern history, with widespread protests by his supporters and a crackdown by security forces in which hundreds of Islamists were killed and thousands jailed.
The movement emerged after the 2011 revolt as the country's best-organized political force. But it has been driven underground and designated a terrorist organization since Morsi was overthrown.
Sissi has said the Brotherhood would cease to exist in his presidency.
The Thursday ruling related to clashes during protests in July following the army's ouster of Morsi after mass protests nine people and incitement to kill that led to 21 other deaths, judicial sources said.
Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie, who faces charges in several other cases, was already referred to the Mufti on a separate set of charges.
A court in the town of Minya, south of Cairo, is expected to deliver a final verdict on Saturday in that case.
Among the defendants were senior Brotherhood members Mohamed El-Beltagi and Essam El-Erian and former members of the Morsi government. Six of the accused are on the run.