By Mahmoud Mourad
CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian court sentenced former President Mohamed Mursi to life in prison on Tuesday for conspiring with foreign groups and sentenced three other Muslim Brotherhood leaders to death.
The general guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohamed Badie was also sentenced to life in the same case, which under Egptian law, means serving 25 years in prison. In total, 17 were given life sentences, including senior Brotherhood figures Essam el-Erian and Saad el-Katatni.
The court sentenced Muslim Brotherhood leaders Khairat el-Shater, Mohamed el-Beltagy and Ahmed Abdelaty to death in the same case. Death sentences were also handed to 13 other defendants in absentia. The verdicts can be appealed.
Judge Shaaban el-Shami, first gave a history of the Muslim Brotherhood, before handing down his sentence.
He said the Grand Mufti, Egypt's top religious authority, had said in his opinion that the death sentence was permissible for the defendants who had been referred to him.
The case relates to conspiring with foreign groups, including the Palestinian Hamas, which rules Gaza.
Mursi, dressed in a blue prison suit, was calm and smiled slightly as the judge read out the verdict in the court in the Police Academy.
The defendants chanted "Down, down with military rule," as they were led into the court.
Shami is expected, after a short recess, to give a ruling in a case related to a 2011 mass jail break.
The court last month sought the death penalty for Mursi after he and his fellow defendants, including Brotherhood leader Badie, were convicted of killing and kidnapping policemen, attacking police facilities and breaking out of jail during the uprising against then-president Hosni Mubarak.
The court is seeking, in addition to Mursi, the death sentence for 106 others in the same case, which has drawn criticism from the United States, other Western governments and human rights groups.
The Islamist Mursi was Egypt's first democratically elected president and was overthrown by the army in 2013 after mass protests against his rule.
He has said the court is not legitimate, describing legal proceedings against him as part of a coup led by former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in 2013.
Sisi, now president, says the Brotherhood poses a grave threat to national security. The group maintains it is committed to peaceful activism.
Despite U.S. lawmakers' concerns that Egypt is lagging on democratic reforms, Cairo remains one of Washington's closest security allies in the region.
Relations cooled after Mursi was overthrown but ties with Sisi have steadily improved.
In late March, U.S. President Barack Obama lifted a hold on a supply of arms to Cairo, authorizing deliveries of U.S. weapons valued at over $1.3 billion.
(Reporting by Omar Fahmy and Ahmed Aboulenein, Writing by Yara Bayoumy, Editing by Angus MacSwan)