An Egyptian court on Tuesday set a date later this month for its final ruling on the death sentence recently handed down to ousted President Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Originally scheduled for June 2, the decision is now set for June 16. The postponement was announced just hours after the arrest of two high-ranking Brotherhood leaders.
The court will decide on Morsi's death sentence after it receives an opinion on the matter from Shawki Allam, Egypt's grand mufti. According to Egyptian law, all death sentences are referred to the top cleric.
Morsi entered the courtroom for the hearing on his death sentence Tuesday as fellow defendants chanted, "Down, down with the military."
Late Monday, authorities arrested Abdel-Rahman el-Bar, the Muslim Brotherhood’s top religious cleric, and Mahmoud Ghozlan, its former spokesman and a member of its top decision-making body. The two were hiding in Giza, a suburb of Cairo, according to a security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
The arrests were the latest in an ongoing crackdown on the Brotherhood, which has been banned by Egypt. Cairo considers the group a terrorist organization and accuses it of orchestrating attacks on Egyptian policemen, judges, army officers and public figures.
The crackdown was launched after the military's ouster of Morsi in July 2013. Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, was overthrown after millions of people staged demonstrations demanding he step down. Dozens of Brotherhood leaders have been put on trial, and many were given death sentences. Scores of other Brotherhood members have gone into hiding.
The Brotherhood, founded in 1928, was dissolved by Egypt's military rulers in 1954 but remained active in Egyptian society largely underground. After the overthrow of longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the group legally registered the Freedom and Justice Party and fielded Morsi for president. He won in 2012.
With his victory, the Muslim Brotherhood appeared to cement itself in the heart of power for years to come. However, accusations that his administration was incompetent and intent on monopolizing power tarnished the group's reputation.
The 87-year-old Brotherhood has been shaken by nearly two years of constant pressure and persecution by authorities. Mohammed Montassir, a Brotherhood spokesman, described the latest arrests as a "failed attempt ... to disrupt the revolutionaries across the nation" in a post on his Facebook page.
Separately, Egyptian state TV on Monday night announced that the police have disrupted what it called several Brotherhood plots to assault symbols of the government such as the police, army and judges as well as media, political and public figures.
The group has denied responsibility for the assassinations and suicide bombings that have rocked the country over the past two years.
Morsi was sentenced to death in May over a mass prison break during Egypt's 2011 uprising. That case was one of several legal cases against him, for which he was tried concurrently.