When Mohamed Morsi died recently in an Egyptian cage which serves as dock for court trials, the world was shocked that the first democratically elected president of Egypt would end in such a sudden and sad end. He was 67. He had collapsed in the cage in the middle of a trial for espionage and before help arrived he was dead. Morsi was President for one year before his fortune changed dramatically.
Morsi was sworn in on June 30, 2012 as an elected president but was removed in a military coup d’etat spearheaded by his defence minister, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who also, a few weeks ago, got the Egyptian parliament to approve for him tenure extension up to 2032.
Morsi was a throw-up of the 2011 Arab Springs, the Egyptian Revolution which succeeded in dethroning the Egyptian dictator, and Hosni Mubarak, who ruled the country for exactly 30 years (1981-2011) like Omar al-Bashir (1989-2019) south of the border.
Last week, the Egyptian government declared the highest state of alert instead of the traditional lowering of the flag in honour of a departed president. Indeed the country was divided as Morsi’s relatives; supporters and human rights groups lamented how harshly he had been treated by the authorities. The government explained how Morsi had been killed by a heart attack and how quickly the public prosecutor had issued a burial permit and how speedily all forensics had been completed. Morsi, was thus buried in a kind of hurry, said some of his sympathizers.
Calls for an investigation into his death has come from all corners, including the UN Secretary-General, the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Morsi’s supporters in exile especially members of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. Morsi’s demise was a disaster foretold. His son, Abdullah Morsi, reported last year that his father was held in solitary confinement and that his medical conditions including high blood pressure and diabetes were going untreated. A special report by UK legislators warned more forcefully that the lack of medical treatment could result to Morsi’s “premature death” and that the Egyptian authorities were responsible for his deliberate slow death.
Indeed, human rights officials were unanimous Morsi suffered from chronic diabetes and was repeatedly denied medical treatment and was held under inhumane conditions. The President of Turkey, Recep Tayip Erdorgan was unequivocal that Morsi was killed and the Egyptian government must be made to face an international trial over his death, For a brief moment, Mohamed Morsi was representative of the yearnings of Egyptians for a democratic government as expressed by hundreds of thousands if not millions of young Egyptians who protested during the Arab Springs.
In spite of misgivings about his being an Islamist, to which Morsi himself confessed, he was still able to get communists, liberals, secularists, even Christians to vote for him. Given his background as an American-trained engineer, and an academic, most Egyptians trusted he would exercise good judgment. He won at the second ballot and he scored 51 per cent. He fell down where all religious zealots through the ages have fallen in democratic politics – intolerance and the winner-takes-all mentality.
In his bid to impose an Islamist constitution, he issued a temporary constitutional declaration which would grant him unlimited power “to legislate without judicial oversight or review of his acts.”
That was an unmistakable red flag. He rescinded it later but the damage was done. Renewed protests began and increased in tempo and expanse calling on Morsi to resign. By June 30, 2013, exactly a year he took office, the military was compelled to give him a 48-hour ultimatum to meet the demands of the protesters or the military would “implement their own roadmap” for the country. The coup council included the leader of the opposition Mohamed Elbaradei, former director of the UN agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), plus the Coptic Pope Tawadros II and Egypt’s Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb. Unable to meet the conditions, therefore, on 3rd July 2013, Morsi was overthrown and life went upside down.
Members of his Muslim Brotherhood movement launched a counter protest but were demonized and branded a terrorist group, and proscribed. The Brotherhood protest continued till August when it was finally extinguished by a gruesome massacre of not less than 817 Morsi supporters, a tragic act which forced Al Baradei to quit the coup council.
All fundamental freedoms were eviscerated in the name of fighting terrorism. Morsi was in and out of courts. In 2015, he was sentenced to death in one of the charges but the judgment was later reversed. Political prisoners in Egypt number about 60,000 and hundreds have been sentenced to death.