GP Insights

GP Insights # 83, 22 June 2019

Death of Egypt's Mohammad Morsi: Lessons from 'Democracy protests'
Harini Madhusudhan

What happened? 
Mohammad Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, died on 17 June 2019, following over six years of imprisonment, after being overthrown in a military coup by current the President Abdel Fattah el Sisi. His death leaves more questions than answers. Egyptian authorities claim Morsi died of a fatal heart attack in a Cairo court. However, many speculate over the possibility of foul play and call for a transparent investigation into Morsi's death. 

While appearing in court in June 2017, Morsi reportedly requested to speak to his lawyers about 'crimes' he suffered in prison, but his request was denied. In its place, an official health report was presented during the court hearing declaring him to be in good health aside from high blood pressure. He was being kept inside a soundproof glass cage to ensure he could not speak at will. When Morsi collapsed in court during his trial on espionage charges, witnesses spoke to reporters and stated that he was left in the cage for 20 minutes after he collapsed. 

In his final moments, Morsi reportedly urged the judge to let him share secrets that could exonerate him. He told the judge he needed to speak in a closed session to reveal the information, a request the deposed president had repeatedly asked for in the past but had never been granted.

What is the background?
As an ailing political prisoner who represented no physical threat or risk of escape from a maximum-security prison, he was isolated brutally. Neither regional powers representing the tyrannical regimes in the Arab world nor their global supporters allowed the Morsi-led democratic government to rule Egypt, the largest and by far the most important Arab country. After intense pressure from external actors, he was ousted by a military junta on 3 July 2013 and imprisoned after the coup. He was blamed for treason and was accused of acting in the name of external powers. The el-Sissi regime tortured and mistreated him while he was in jail.

Writing in a Washington Post op-ed last year, Abdullah Morsi, the former president's son, said his father had lost most of his sight in one eye while in prison due to inadequate health care. "We fear that the Egyptian authorities are doing this on purpose since they want to see him dead 'from natural causes' as soon as possible," his son wrote. Speaking to HRW, Morsi's family detailed how he fainted twice and fell into a diabetic coma during the first week of June 2017. According to HRW MENA Director Sarah Leah Whitson, Morsi told his family that a medical professional told him he needed surgery for his deteriorating sight, but that he was never able to get it. The only medical attention Morsi received, according to HRW, was the occasional blood pressure or sugar level check by a nurse or doctor. No additional medical care was provided. He was even forced to buy his own insulin, according to the group.

Morsi's brief tenure as Egypt's only democratically elected president was characterised by optimism, which quickly turned to frustration. Tens of thousands turned out across Turkey to mourn the deposed leader's passing, in stark contrast to his low-key burial in Cairo. All the major parliamentary democracies, which always speak with one voice about tyranny, were mute. Barring a few, Turkey, Malaysia, Qatar, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood-in-exile and all the usual suspects – Morsi's memory and his final moments were as if they had never been.

What does it mean?
Following his death, the regime declared a state of high alert across the country and dispatched thousands of police patrols to squash any protests. He was not given the funeral that his family requested for. It was swift and largely a secret. This can be seen as a significant blow to the Arab Spring. If one were to assume that there could be a revival of the Arab Spring in the coming months, this would remain precedence for leaders and young adults. 

Morsi's death and the silent burial also speaks volumes about the leadership in Egypt.

Harini Madhusudan is currently a Research Associate with ISSSP, NIAS. She can be reached at harinimadhusudan@gmail.com

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