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Obituary: Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first, democratic president

It was at a retrial for colluding with Hamas yesterday that the Brotherhood leader collapsed in his sound proof box and was transferred to hospital

Before he died on 17 June 2019 deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi faced a raft of charges from the state he once ruled over, from espionage to killing protesters, prison escape, judiciary insult, jailbreak and spying for Qatar.

It was at a retrial for colluding with Hamas yesterday that the Brotherhood leader collapsed in his sound proof box and was transferred to hospital. Shortly afterwards the cameras in the courtroom were impounded and later on, so was his medical report.

Egyptian state TV announced that Morsi died of a heart attack and the Attorney General has said that no injuries were found on his body, in a pre-emptive measure to quell potential unrest in the aftermath of his death. His passing has been described by Director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch Sarah Leah Whitson as “sad but entirely predictable”.

Human rights advocates had long been concerned about Morsi’s health, as he was suffering from diabetes, liver and kidney disease yet was consistently being denied medical attention, a common punitive measure Egyptian authorities use against political prisoners.

In 2018 an independent panel of UK MPs led by Crispin Blunt reported that Morsi was being incarcerated for 23 hours a day, which could be classified as torture, and that the refusal to administer medical care could result in his premature death.

Along with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, Blunt has called for an independent investigation into Morsi’s death.

READ: Former Egypt President Morsi dies in court

Morsi was born in 1951 in El-Edwah Nile Delta village in the north of Egypt, the eldest of five sons. His parents were farmers.

He went on to study engineering at Cairo University and later completed a PhD at the University of Southern California in the US.

He was elected to parliament as an independent candidate in 2000, in 2005 worked as a legislator, and in 2006 was imprisoned for seven months after he took part in a demonstration in favour of reformist judges.

In 2010 he became the Brotherhood’s spokesperson then stepped up to run as a candidate in Egypt’s first democratic election in 2012 after frontrunner Khairat Al-Shater was disqualified. Morsi was dubbed “the accidental president” and won with a narrow 51 per cent of the vote.

READ: World reacts to the death of Mohammed Morsi

As president, Morsi attempted to end decades of military rule in the country by forcibly removing two senior military figures, then Defence Minister Hussein Tantawi and Sami Enan.

Days before the election results were announced, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces announced a constitutional declaration that gave them the power to veto any article in the new draft of the constitution. Morsi cancelled this and transferred power to himself.

At a speech to the United Nations General Assembly Morsi said the most pressing issue for the international community was certifying the rights of Palestinians and called Israeli settlements “shameful”.

Of Gaza he said, “we will never leave Gaza on its own,” and worked to ease restrictions on the besieged coastal enclave.

During the 2012 assault on the Strip he sent then Egyptian Prime Minister Hashim Qandil to visit, recalled Egypt’s ambassador from Tel Aviv and gave Israel’s ambassador to Cairo a letter of protest. He also called for an emergency UNSC meeting and opened the Rafah border to allow wounded Gazans access to medical care.

Palestinian security forces loyal to the Palestinian Authority stand at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip on 17 July, 2018 [Ashraf Amra/Apaimages]

Rafah border crossing with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip on 17 July, 2018 [Ashraf Amra/Apaimages]

He called the Syrian government “an oppressive regime that has lost its legitimacy” and said he would not rest until the war – “the tragedy of the age” – in the country was over.

However, during his presidency Morsi drew criticism for appointing seven members of the Brotherhood as provincial governors, issuing a decree that protected him from judicial review and earnt the reputation that he wasn’t a president for all Egyptians.

A year later another wave of protests demanded he stand down and Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who he had appointed as defence minister and army chief, toppled him in a coup and later assumed the presidency.

Shortly after his incarceration Brotherhood supporters gathered at sit-ins to demand his reinstatement but police and security forces shot at the crowds on five separate occasions killing some 1,000 people.

READ: Egypt slams HRW over ex-president’s death circumstances

What ensued was an unprecedented crackdown against the Brotherhood, including its designation as a terror organisation, the imprisonment of thousands of its members and mass court cases in which many were sentenced to lengthy sentences or to death.

An Egyptian court issued the death penalty against Morsi in June 2015, which was later overturned, perhaps because they feared the outcry that would follow his execution. Instead, they imprisoned him for over half a decade and refused him medical attention until he died.

In response to the loss of their leader, the Brotherhood has said it was “full-fledged murder” and maintain that the government assassinated Morsi. They are calling for protests outside Egyptian embassies and for Egyptians to gather at a mass funeral.

Former Egypt President Morsi dies in court - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Former Egypt President Morsi dies in court – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

After news of his death was broadcast, the interior ministry placed its forces on full alert, deploying thousands of patrols and checkpoints across the country, tightening security at hotels and announcing it was prepared to carry out pre-emptive strikes against terrorist elements.

Morsi was 67 when he died, was married and had five children and three grandchildren who were only allowed to visit him three times in the six years he was imprisoned.

He was buried in a cemetery with some close family members in the mosque of Tora Prison, after a request to bury him at the family cemetery of his village in the Nile Delta was denied. The ceremony was closed to the public and the press.

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