Mohammed Morsi, Egyptian tragedy

The late Muhammad Mursi
The late Muhammad Mursi

The sudden death of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsion June 17, while standing trial in a courtroom, caused consternation and outrage within his country and beyond.Morsi had served as the fifth President of Egypt from  June 30, 2012 to July 3, 2013 when General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi toppled him in a coup d’état.

The coup was mounted after the military, in the wake of massive street protests across the country in June that year, issued an ultimatum to Morsi’s government to “resolve its differences” with protesters.After the coup, the military suspended the Egyptian constitution of 2012,arrested Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood leaders, and made Chief Justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court Adly Mansour Egypt’s interim president. Clashes then followed between supporters and opponents of the coup. The Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei all supported the coup.

Pro-Morsi demonstrations were crushed, resulting in over 800 deaths. Egyptian prosecutors then charged Morsi with various crimes and sought the death penalty, a move denounced by Amnesty International as “a charade based on null and void procedures.” His death sentence was overturned in November 2016 and a retrial was ordered.

Morsi was born in Egypt’s Sharqia Governoratein August 1951.He studied metallurgical engineering at Cairo University and materials science at the University of Southern California. He was an associate professor at California State Universitybefore returning to Egypt to teach at Zagazig University. He associated with the then banned Muslim Brotherhoodunder President Hosni Mubarak. He was elected president as head of the Freedom and Justice Party in 2012.After his ouster, Morsi frequently appeared in courtto answer one charge or another. He was accused of espionage, torture, massive corruption, highhandedness andevenfor alleged stealing of livestock.On June 17, state television reported that Morsi died of a heart attack during a court session.

A group of Egypt experts called Working Group on Egypt said Morsi’s death was likely a result of the poor conditions of his incarceration. “Not only was Morsi kept in prolonged total isolation and allowed only three family visits over six years,  but prison officials denied him medical treatment for diabetes, kidney and liver conditions. Indeed, a British parliamentary investigation warned more than a year ago that Morsi may die as a result of his treatment in prison.”It however said,“While Morsi’s treatment was notably cruel, it was not unusual. Of the 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt’s overcrowded jails, many lack basic sanitation. Higher-profile prisoners often endure months, and sometimes years, of solitary confinement.”

Though Morsi was elected in Egypt’s first free election, some of his actions in office were quite controversial. He issued a temporary constitutional declaration in November 2012 that in effect granted him unlimited powers and the power to legislate without judicial oversight or review of his acts as a pre-emptive move against the expected dissolution of the second constituent assembly by Mubarak-era judges.The new constitution that was hastily finalised by the Islamist-dominated constitutional assembly, presented to the president and scheduled for a referendum before the Supreme Constitutional Court could rule on the assembly’s constitutionality was described by independent press agencies at the time as an “Islamist coup.”

It was these actions, along with complaints of persecution of journalists and attacks on nonviolent demonstrators, that led to the 2012 protests. Morsi rescinded the decrees and gota new constitution approved in a referendum, but the political crisis persisted. Morsi therefore became a big beneficiary as well as a big casualtyof the “Arab Spring.”

Among his legacies, Morsi helped to stop an Israeli military operation against the Gaza Strip in November 2012. He alsoopened the Rafah crossing to be opened for Palestinians for days at a time in 2012-2013.Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, has an ideological relationship with Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. His life and death were full of lessons for Africa and the Arab world. May he find eternal rest in Aljannat.


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