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Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s ‘Arab Spring president’ who held out hope, but just for a year

Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically-elected president, was a member of Muslim Brotherhood that was formed in 1928.

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New Delhi: Egypt’s first democratically-elected president and Islamist leader Mohamed Morsi was buried early Tuesday, a day after he collapsed and died during a court appearance in Cairo.

The 67-year-old leader was testifying about suspected ties between his political organisation, Muslim Brotherhood, and the Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist group that has been branded a terrorist organisation by several world governments.

Morsi has had a history of health problems, including diabetes and kidney disease, and medical examiners found no visible injuries on his body.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has, nevertheless, called for an impartial investigation into Morsi’s death, stating that the Egyptian government had failed to meet Morsi’s basic medical needs while he was in prison.

The military had toppled Morsi’s government in 2013 and arrested him, along with others from the Brotherhood.

Morsi was also denied enough family visits by the Egyptian government in violation of international legal conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the “Mandela Rules.

“Former President Morsi’s death followed years of government mistreatment, prolonged solitary confinement, inadequate medical care, and deprivation of family visits and access to lawyers,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at HRW.

“At the very least, the Egyptian government committed grave abuses against Morsi by denying him prisoners’ rights that met minimum standards,” she further said.

His family was denied requests for a public funeral in his hometown and he was buried in eastern Cairo.

Who was Mohamed Morsi?

Morsi was Egypt’s first democratically-elected president after the Arab Spring protests forced then President Hosni Mubarak to resign in 2011.

The Arab Spring began in Tunisia in December 2010 when street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunis in protest against the repeated harassment by Tunisian officials. His death sparked calls for reforms across the country that led to the resignation of the then-president Ben Ali. This, in turn, led to a wave of pro-democracy protests across North Africa and the Middle East.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), a statutory body of senior Egyptian military officers, assumed temporary power of the country’s government following Mubarak’s resignation and pledged to hold democratic elections, marking a dramatic shift from 30 years of Mubarak’s dictatorial rule.

Mubarak’s resignation overturned the established order in the Arab world and triggered more pro-democracy protests across the region.

It was here that Morsi came into the picture. He was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political organisation that was formed in 1928 and banned several times in Egypt under various secular regimes.

The Muslim Brotherhood advocates political reform, activism and social programmes that support lower-income populations, as well as a society governed by Islamic laws. While the Muslim Brotherhood played an active role in the campaign for Mubarak’s resignation, the protests were carried out by a coalition of largely secular, non-violent youth groups.

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Morsi’s failing government

Morsi won 51 per cent votes in the first free and fair elections, held in June 2012, in Egypt.

But two weeks before he assumed power, SCAF brought all legislative powers under its purview. The Muslim Brotherhood-dominated lower house of Parliament was dissolved by the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), an institution dominated by Mubarak loyalists.

These developments made it incredibly difficult for Morsi’s government to pass any legislation, forcing him to overturn the SCAF declaration and attempting to consolidate power into his own hands. He tried to do this with a declaration that broadened his own powers and protected those granted to the Constituent Assembly (the body responsible for drafting the new constitution).

Even then, amid the constraints of Mubarak’s impenetrable deep state, Morsi was left with few options to fulfill the promises of the revolution.

Critics also called his attempts at consolidating power an authoritarian development. Faced with public backlash, he rescinded the decree.

Morsi showed willingness to compromise with the public in a region where authoritarianism was the norm. But his government lacked experience which was evident in his clumsy attempts to protect the Constituent Assembly and his own power.

In addition to Mubarak’s entrenched support in SCAF and the SCC, Morsi also faced a looming economic crisis in the country — 13 per cent unemployment, currency devaluation and his own personal failure to secure a promised loan from the IMF.

His short time in power gave the illusion that a revolution had occurred in Egypt but Mubarak’s deep state was too ingrained to allow for a smooth democratic transition.

Compounded by Morsi’s lack of political experience and public frustration over a crippling economy, it wasn’t too long before he faced protests calling for his resignation in June 2013.

Protests and military coup

Morsi only served one year of his four-year term before he was deposed in a military coup by current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Along with thousands of his supporters and other dissenters, Morsi was arrested shortly after Sisi assumed power.

The Muslim Brotherhood was once again banned and several senior members put under trial along with Morsi.

He was charged with ordering the arrest and torture of protesters, espionage and murder, among other accusations. In April 2015, he was sentenced to 20 years of hard labour for the detention and torture of protesters. However, he was cleared of inciting the murder of protesters and a journalist, which could have earned him the death penalty.

Two months later, in June 2015, he earned 25 years in prison for “leading a group established against the law” (the Muslim Brotherhood) and espionage in conjunction with Qatar, which he was later acquitted of.

In 2017, he was again found guilty of insulting the judiciary, which added three more years to his sentence and incurred a fine of $60,000.

Since Sisi assumed power, thousands have been killed in the crackdown against dissidence. He has also made attempts to extend his power, increase executive control over the judiciary, and integrate the military into politics. He was accused of buying votes and bribery in an election last year, when he won 97.8 per cent of the country’s vote.

Sisi has also freed Mubarak from prison, indicating that Mubarak never truly lost power despite losing his presidency. As Sisi’s regime increasingly resembles Mubarak’s, a democratic future seems less and less likely for Egypt.

Also read: Arab unity remains a desert mirage as Islamic world is more divided than ever


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  1. Sisi is as much a Pharaoh as Mubarak was. Good for at least another twenty years. The Gulf monarchies have succeeded is plucking the blossoms of Arab Spring.

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