It is the latest in a series of mass trials that have drawn international condemnation. The same judge also announced the death penalty for 37 of 529 defendants in a similar case last month, though he commuted the rest to life imprisonment.
In announcing the 683 death sentences – for violence and the killing of policemen – yesterday, Judge Said Youssef said he was referring his ruling to the Grand Mufti, the nation’s top Islamic official. This is a requirement under Egyptian law, but one that is considered a formality.
Both trials are linked to deadly riots that erupted in several cities after security forces violently disbanded sit-ins by Brotherhood supporters in Cairo last August. Hundreds of people were killed as part of a sweeping campaign against supporters of former president Mohammed Morsi, ousted by the military last July.
The removal of Morsi a year after he was elected came after millions of people demonstrated against his rule.
Among those convicted and sentenced to death yesterday was Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood’s spiritual guide. If his sentence is confirmed, it would make him the most senior Brotherhood figure sentenced to death since one of the group’s leading ideologues, Sayed Qutb, was executed in 1966.
Badie was not present during the hearing in Minya, south of Cairo, as he was in a court in the capital where he faces charges of murder and incitement to murder, with 16 other Brotherhood leaders, in a case connected to deadly protests outside the group’s headquarters last June.
Once the Grand Mufti reviews yesterday’s ruling, the court will issue the final verdicts on 21 June.
As the ruling was announced, an outcry erupted outside the court among the families of the defendants. Women fainted and wailed as many cried out: “Why? This is unfair!”
“My three sons are inside,” said one grief-stricken woman, Samiya.
Sitting on the pavement in front of the police cordon, Fatma, 58, wept and screamed: “This judge is a butcher.”
Mohammed Hassan Shehata, said his son, Mahmoud, was arrested in January. Mr Shehata said: “There is no evidence whatsoever. If my son is guilty, behead him but if he is innocent, there will be a civil war.”
Lawyer Ali Kamal said the hearing lasted only eight minutes. Security forces surrounded the court and blocked roads, preventing families and the media from attending proceedings. “This is against the spirit of the law,” he said.
According to a judicial official, evidence presented in the trial consisted mostly of footage of the defendants showing them attacking and looting a police station in Cairo and setting fire to several government buildings.
He said: “Yes, the verdict is very harsh, the number of people on trial is shocking, but it’s proportional to the crimes.”
If the Grand Mufti upholds the death sentences for all or recommends reversing them “it won’t mean anything to the judge”, he added. “Only the judge has the right and the power to reverse his earlier decisions.”