CAIRO: Mohammad Badie, supreme guide of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, who was sentenced to death Monday, once advocated a low profile for the group but eventually embraced its move to mainstream politics.
A court in the central city of Minya sentenced Badie and 682 other alleged Islamists to death for the murder and attempted murder of policemen after police broke up a sit-in on Aug. 14 in Cairo of supporters of deposed president Mohammad Morsi.
Badie was not brought to the court for Monday’s sentencing from the Cairo prison where he is being held.
A slight, gray-bearded and bespectacled veterinary professor born in 1943, Badie was for years responsible for ideological education within the Brotherhood.
Along with Morsi, Badie faces several trials amid a brutal government crackdown on the Islamist organization and its supporters since the military overthrew Morsi in July.
Badie has several times railed from the caged dock at the military-installed authorities, accusing the government of staging a “coup d’état” by removing Morsi.
For years, he had argued that the Brotherhood should focus on social issues and ideological outreach more than politics, but the 2011 uprising that ousted longtime president Hosni Mubarak appeared to change his mind.
Badie was elected to head the movement in January 2010 after a bitter dispute between conservatives, who favored an ideological focus, and reformists advocating a greater public role. Appointed for a six-year term, he became the group’s eighth leader since its foundation in 1928.
After his nomination, he insisted that the Muslim Brotherhood would seek “incremental reform.”
“That takes place in a peaceful and constitutional way,” he said. “We reject violence and denounce it in all its forms.”
At the time, analysts saw his appointment as a sign of the Brotherhood shifting away from politics.
Mubarak’s downfall changed everything, however, and Badie embraced the importance of parliament and its role after the Brotherhood won nearly half its seats in an election in early 2012.
“The elected parliament has the right to take to account all state institutions, including the military institution,” he warned at the time.
Badie had initially said the group would not field a candidate or support “any candidate who has an Islamic reference” in Egypt’s first post-uprising presidential election.
But he subsequently endorsed fielding a candidate from the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party – first Khairat al-Shater, and then Morsi, after Shater was disqualified.
After Morsi’s election in 2012, his opponents charged that Badie was the real power in Egypt, often chanting “Down with the Supreme Guide’s rule!” at protests.
Badie has an acerbic sense of humor and often bristled at criticism.
“God has tasked me not to respond to your likes,” he told one young man who accosted him in a shopping mall.
Born in the Nile Delta town of Mahalla al-Kubra, Badie was jailed for nine years in the 1960s after being accused of belonging to a Brotherhood paramilitary cell that had allegedly plotted to overthrow the government.
He was arrested again in 1999 and sentenced to another nine years by a military tribunal, but served only four.
Badie replaced Mahdi Akef, who resigned before the end of his term after conservative members opposed the promotion of Essam Erian, who was associated with reformists within the Brotherhood.
He remains a staunch supporter of Morsi.
In the immediate aftermath of his ouster and before he was himself detained, Badie attended rallies calling for Morsi’s reinstatement.
“Millions will remain in the squares until we carry our elected president, Mohamed Morsi, on our shoulders,” Badie told a cheering crowd last August.