The office of Egypt's grand mufti, the country's official authority for issuing religious edicts, announced on Thursday that recently-appointed Grand Mufti Shawki Allam may not have the time to approve or reject death sentences handed down in January to 21 Port Said residents charged with complicity in last year's stadium disaster.
Egyptian law requires that all death sentences be approved by the mufti before being carried out. In its Thursday statement, however, the mufti's office asserted that Egypt's court system should either pursue the case without the mufti's approval or give him more time to review the case, which, it said, involved more than 1000 pages of documentation.
A final verdict in the Port Said stadium trial is expected on 9 March, when 52 remaining defendants – out of a total of 73 – will be sentenced. Saturday's court verdicts will cover security officials accused of orchestrating Egypt's worst-ever football-related tragedy.
The announcement of the first set of sentences on 26 January, in which the 21 defendants were all slapped with death sentences, sparked protests and riots in the restive canal city that left over 40 people dead.
Protesters in Port Said are currently waging a campaign of 'civil disobedience' against what they see as excessively harsh sentences and the perceived marginalisation of the city by the central government.
Meanwhile, members of the Ultras Ahlawy, hardcore fans of Cairo football club Ahly (scores of whose members were killed in last year's stadium disaster), have hailed the earlier death sentences as fair "retribution" for the "massacre" of their colleagues.