Seven years after he was inaugurated as president of Egypt following his victory in the country’s first free presidential election in decades, Mohammed Morsi died on Monday as he was about to testify in court in Cairo.
The circumstances of his death are still not completely clear, and the hospital’s announcement that the 67-year-old Morsi suffered a heart attack was met with doubt and suspicion by his supporters and those loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Large numbers of police deployed in the streets of the capital out of fear that large-scale protests would break out, including not only supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, but also other opponents of President Abdel Fattah Sissi, Egyptian media reported on Monday.
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The rise and death of Mohammed Morsi tell the story of the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt. Morsi was not the Brotherhood’s first choice for its presidential candidate. Morsi – an engineer with a Ph.D. in materials science from the University of Southern California, a professor and who worked with NASA in the early 1980s – returned to Egypt in 1985 and became a professor and the head of the engineering department at Zagazig University. He was arrested just before the revolution as part of the Mubarak regime’s intense offensive against the Brotherhood.
Morsi was not a standout leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, nor did he have a religious title. But he was acceptable to the Brotherhood’s leadership as a compromise candidate who would not anger the military, which had taken control of the country after the fall of Hosni Mubarak. They also thought Morsi would be able to enlist the support of the secular protest movements because of his widespread ties with them.
The election results gave him 53 percent of the vote, which made it clear that Egypt was split as to the rule of a religious party in general, and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular. Yet Morsi’s election – which came after the Brotherhood received legitimacy and the 1954 ban on its political activities was canceled – symbolized the triumph of democracy in the country and an important achievement for the revolution.
One of the senior activists of the liberal movements, Wael Ghonim, whose Facebook page was established in the memory of Khaled Said, the young Egyptian man killed by police in Alexandria five months before the revolution broke out, said at the time that he would vote for Morsi because they must first ensure democracy and only after worry about its quality.
But very quickly the protest movements and the general public realized that Morsi was not interested in implementing the principles laid out by the revolution and rebellion.
In a series of presidential orders, Morsi gave his decisions the status of law. He established a committee to draft a constitution that was made up mostly of figures who supported the Brotherhood and turning Egypt into a theocracy. He imposed harsh censorship and put his rivals, journalists and intellectuals in jail. The Muslim Brotherhood movement showed an insatiable appetite for power when Morsi began to replace senior officials who had served under Mubarak. He appointed Brotherhood movement activists, who began running the country according to the religious-political agenda of the Brotherhood.
At the same time, Morsi was careful to maintain a close relationship with the Obama administration and enjoyed the support of Turkey. Morsi even declared that he planned to keep all the agreements signed by Egypt, including the Camp David agreements with Israel.
When Israeli President Shimon Peres sent Morsi a letter to congratulate him on his election, Morsi responded warmly: “It was with deep thanks that I received your congratulations on the advent of the Holy Month of Ramadan,” Morsi wrote. “I am looking forward to exerting our best efforts to get the Middle East peace process back on the right track in order to achieve security and stability for all peoples of the region, including [the] Israeli people,” Morsi wrote in the missive. To a certain extent, the letter dispelled Israeli fears about the Muslim Brotherhood member, who in the past would not speak the name of Israel, referring to it as the “Zionist entity,” and called Israel’s leaders warmongers.
The Second Egyptian Republic – and its downfall
During his single year in office, Morsi racked up a number of economic achievements. He obtained generous grants and loans from Qatar, signed agreements with the International Monetary Fund and ordered an increase in budgets for infrastructure. Tourism, which was in critical condition in the aftermath of the revolution, began to return.
The leaders of Western nations accepted Morsi as the authentic leader of the “Second Egyptian Republic,” which represented the era of democracy in Egypt. None of this calmed the protest movements, which renewed their mass demonstrations and called on Morsi to resign.
On the anniversary of his taking office, because of the enormous protests that rocked Cairo, the army took control of the presidential palace and gave Morsi 48 hours to reverse all his decisions and orders. If he did not, they threatened, he would be removed.
Morsi rejected the ultimatum and accused the army of rebellion against the elected president, but in the end Morsi was arrested. In his stead the defense minister and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Sissi, appointed himself as acting president.
Morsi was charged with dozens of crimes, including espionage, treason, the killing of civilians and conspiring with Hamas and Qatar. He was convicted of all these crimes and was even sentenced to death on one of the counts, which was commuted to life imprisonment plus three more years.
Morsi’s overthrow by Sissi was accepted as a necessary act to save Egypt’s democracy from theocracy, at first. It didn’t take long for Egyptians to realize that the new president – even if he had removed his uniform and donned a civilian suit – was no savior of democracy either.
Sissi began an all-out war against the Muslim Brotherhood, blocked their activities and declared them a terrorist organization that must be uprooted. At the same time, Sissi began a regime of harsh repression, even worse than during Mubarak’s time. Protest movements were disbanded, their activists were arrested, media outlets and journalists suffered persecution and human and civil rights were ignored. Egypt became a focus for international criticism.
It seems that if Morsi symbolized the triumph of the revolution and its collapse, Sissi’s rule intends to crush its spirit.
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