On June 17, 2012, Mohammed Morsi was elected as the president of Egypt. On the same date seven years later, having been ousted from that role, he died in court while on trial for bogus charges such as conspiring with Qatar and Hamas, breaking out of jail, and letting prisoners escape during the chaos of the 2011 revolution.
Morsi was a symbol of that revolution, which gave Egyptians hope. He wasn’t just the first and only democratically elected civilian president in modern Egyptian history, he also was the first Egyptian president to die since 1981. Then it was Anwar Sadat, assassinated by a military officer during a parade. Hosni Mubarak then took the helm and ruled Egypt for 30 years without meaningful elections, brought the country to ruins and irrelevance — economically, politically, educationally, culturally and militarily — and was toppled by the January 25 Revolution in 2011.
Are you still with me? Believe me, it gets more interesting.
Morsi, who had received his doctoral engineering degree from the University of Southern California and came from the Freedom and Justice Party — the political wing of the banned Muslim Brotherhood — had been elected by more than 12 million Egyptians over his opponent, a former military general, Ahmed Shafik.
A year into his presidency, on July 3, 2013, he was ousted in a military coup led by his defense minister, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, a military general who also had studied in America. Morsi was kidnapped from his office and left incommunicado for almost a month. Six weeks later, Egyptian security forces shot dead at least 817 protesters, mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood, who had gone on a general sit-in strike demanding that this modern-day pharaoh let Morsi go. As was reported by Amnesty International and human-rights organizations, this was the biggest massacre of protesters in Egyptian history.
Morsi spent seven years in prison, in solitary confinement, like 60,000 other political prisoners, including my young nephew Hassan Al-Adawy. When Morsi appeared in court, he was kept in a bullet-resistant glass cage, unable to talk to his lawyers or see his accusers. His family was allowed to visit him three times in all these years — though only his wife and daughter; his four sons were denied visiting rights. His treatment in prison was a series of abuses and strategic medical negligence that slowly killed him.
Morsi had a severe diabetic condition and other health issues. When he appeared in court on Monday afternoon, he was complaining about his health, according to some witnesses. He collapsed and was rushed to a hospital, but was dead on arrival.
In less than 24 hours — in secrecy and without a medical report — he was buried in a military cemetery. Not even his wife was allowed to see him.
Morsi’s premature death (he was 67) shows how fragile and paranoid the military dictatorship regime of el-Sissi is. El-Sissi now has rid himself of the last symbol of the January 25 Revolution, as did Gamal Abdel Nasser — president of Egypt from 1954 to 1970 — with another Islamist, Sayyid Qutb, who was executed by hanging in 1966, turning him to a martyr.
Reaction to Morsi’s death in Egypt is almost surreal — a complete media blockage, programming against the Muslim Brotherhood, demonization and outlandish accusations, showings of violent videos of terrorism. His death announcement appeared in a few footnotes in major state newspapers.
The tragic part of this Shakespearean turn of events is that even Morsi’s enemies could see the unfair and criminal treatment he received compared with his unelected predecessor Mubarak, who spent most of his own trial circus in a luxurious military hospital surrounded by family and who never lost access to his privileges. Mubarak eventually was cleared of all charges and, despite having lain in a bed appearing sickly during his trial, walked out of court as a free 91-year-old man.
As yet we haven’t heard a reaction to Morsi’s death from President el-Sissi. As Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote: “If a victory is told in detail, one can no longer distinguish it from a defeat.”
Ahmed Tharwat is host of the Arab-American TV show BelAhdan. He grew up in a small village in Egypt. He blogs at Notes From America (www.ahmediatv.com). Follow him on Twitter: @ahmediaTV.