Awaiting Impact of Morsi's Death, Israel Closely Watching Events in Egypt

The Islamist former president's death is seen in Israel as a challenge that Sissi's government can withstand, but the moment of truth will come on Friday

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Mohamed Morsi during his trial in Cairo in April, 2016.
Mohamed Morsi during his trial in Cairo in April, 2016.Credit: KHALED DESOUKI / AFP

Israel is tensely following developments in Egypt following the death Monday of former President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, during a court hearing on the indictment against him. In the coming days Morsi’s movement is expected to initiate protest actions over his death. But presumably the regime headed by President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi will be deploying extra forces to prevent a new outbreak of violence.

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Ever since the Egyptian generals headed by Sissi seized power in Egypt in the military coup of 2013, the regime has cracked down heavily on Islamic movements, first and foremost the Muslim Brotherhood, which was completely kept out of the government. Some 16,000 activists, including all the movement’s leaders, have since then been held in prisons and detention camps. Only a few have been released.

The authorities shut down radio stations and newspapers affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Imprisoned activists complained that they were held in harsh conditions and were often tortured. One can assume that with regard to Morsi’s death, there will be similar claims about the conduct toward the former president and the quality of his medical treatment. According to reports from witnesses in the court, he felt ill and collapsed during the hearing, dying shortly thereafter. According to state television, Morsi had a heart attack.

File photo: An Egyptian flag stained with blood flutters over members of the Muslim Brotherhood during a protest in Cairo in 2013.Credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

It is likely that the regime in Cairo will prepare for possible mass demonstrations by boosting the internal and military security forces in the main cities, primarily Cairo and Alexandria. The moment of truth will be Friday, when there will be prayers in thousands of mosques, many of which are still identified with the Muslim Brotherhood.

However, the impression in Israel is that Sissi is in firm control of the country and is able to suppress his opponents. The funds received by the Egyptian government from Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states are helping him avoid a more severe economic crisis and provide the citizens’ current needs. If Morsi’s death leads to large demonstrations, Israel will view it as a challenge to Cairo, but one that it seems the government will be able to withstand.

Another concern of Israel’s is the possible impact of the Muslim Brotherhood leader's death on its sister movement, Hamas, in the Gaza Strip. In recent years, however, Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip have made some effort to separate themselves from the Muslim Brotherhood because of the tension between the movement and the generals in Cairo. Hamas now depends on Sissi’s goodwill, particularly on the issue of keeping the Rafah border crossing open, allowing Gaza access to the rest of the world.

Therefore, it can be assumed that while there will be expressions of sorrow over Morsi’s death, Hamas will refrain from directly accusing Sissi and his associates of complicity in it. At the beginning of the week, another shipment of money from Qatar was transferred to the Gaza Strip, and the organization is interested in exploiting the funds and indirect understandings reached in negotiations with Israel to somewhat improve Gaza’s poor economic situation and to expedite vital infrastructure projects.