An Egyptian court has referred the case of a man accused of stabbing a Coptic Christian priest to death to the country’s top mufti, Islam’s highest religious authority.
CAIRO — An Egyptian court is asking the country’s top mufti, the highest religious authority for Islam, to rule on the case of a man accused of stabbing a Coptic Christian priest to death, news reports the lead trial judge on Wednesday.
A decision by the Grand Mufi Shawky Allam on whether the suspect should be sentenced to death and executed is a non-binding opinion, but it can significantly influence the court’s decision.
The 56-year-old priest, Arsanious Wadid, was killed on a popular seaside promenade in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria last month in an attack that shocked the Arab world’s most populous nation.
The prosecution has requested the death penalty for Nehru Tawfiq, 60, accused of deliberately killing the priest and unlawfully possessing a knife used in the attack.
Tawfiq’s trial began on Saturday in the Alexandria Criminal Court. He appeared on the docks – which in Egyptian courtrooms are located in a caged section of the hall – shouting ‘God is greatest’ in Arabic and attempting to recite verses from the Quran, the holy book Muslim, before the judges ordered him. to shut up.
In their efforts to obtain a lesser sentence, his lawyers argued that it was not a deliberate murder. The trial resumed on Wednesday with the prosecution’s arguments in a hearing broadcast live by local media.
Chief Justice Wahid Sabry said he was referring the matter to the grand mufti for his opinion, although the judge could rule independently. The verdict is due on June 11. It can be appealed to a higher court.
The attack was the latest sectarian violence in Egypt. Islamic extremists have also repeatedly targeted Christians in recent years, particularly after the 2013 military ousting of the late Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, an elected but divisive leader, amid mass protests against his rule.
In September 2017, an alleged supporter of the Islamic State militant group stabbed an 82-year-old Christian doctor to death in Cairo. He was sentenced to death the following year.
Egyptian Copts – the largest Christian community in the Middle East – make up around 10% of the country’s 103 million people and have repeatedly complained of discrimination from the Muslim majority.