Mohamed Morsi didn't 'die' - he was killed

Mohamed Morsi didn't 'die' - he was killed
Comment: Morsi will be remembered, tragically, for the message that was delivered by Arab despots after his electoral victory - that democracy will not be tolerated, writes Mohamad Elmasry.
7 min read
18 Jun, 2019
Morsi was denied adequate medical care since his July 2013 arrest [Anadolu]
Mohamed Morsi, the only democratically elected president in Egyptian history, "died" Monday shortly after his appearance in a soundproof glass cage in a Cairo court. 

Given the gross 
medical negligence that characterised his incarceration at Egypt's notorious Scorpion Prison, however, Morsi's death may be more aptly described as murder.

The Egyptian state didn't carry out Morsi's farcical death sentence. Instead, it caused him to die a slow death, one it has already started to absolve itself from.

Despite being an elderly diabetic suffering from liver and kidney disease, Morsi was denied adequate medical care since his July 2013 arrest. He long ago lost sight in his left eye, and Human Rights Watch reported that he fell into a diabetic coma on at least one occasion in 2017 and fainted on multiple others.

Morsi was kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours every day. He wasn't allowed visitors - his legal team and family were allowed just three visits in six years - and was forced to sleep on a concrete floor, which resulted in neck and spine injuries.

During his court appearances, Morsi pleaded to be taken to a hospital for care, and for the court to allow his family to deliver medication and foods that help control blood sugar. Reports suggest he was malnourished and not provided the medication and treatment necessary to treat his afflictions.

Morsi's death may be more aptly described as murder

British parliamentarian Crispin Blunt investigated Morsi's detention conditions and released a report about them in March 2018. Blunt cautioned, "If Morsi is not provided with adequate medical care soon, the consequence could be his premature death."

Blunt also said that Morsi's treatment - including his solitary confinement - constituted likely torture under international law. Blunt cited an earlier Human Rights Watch report which quoted a prison warden's comments on the Scorpion Prison. The warden said, "[This particular section of the prison] was designed so that those who go in don't come out again, unless dead."

For those who have followed closely, Morsi's death in prison is unsurprising. Morsi's demise in jail is also the outcome that current Egyptian president Abdelfattah al-Sisi, who ousted Morsi in a coup in July 2013, likely desired.

Read more: Egypt buries ousted president Morsi in closed, dawn ceremony amid tight security

The Egyptian government probably feared that carrying out Morsi's death sentence could create unwanted fallout. Clearly, setting Morsi free - and allowing him to divulge what he knows about Sisi - was never an option. His death from illness essentially lets the Egyptian government off the hook - he was a sick, old man, they will argue.

Egyptian media propaganda networks are already hard at work. On Monday they highlighted Morsi's allegedly destructive role in Egyptian society and the Egyptian government's exceptionally kind treatment of him in jail.

Political prisoners - a broader pattern

Morsi was but one of many Egyptian political prisoners. The Egyptian regime has arrested more than 60,000 people since the summer of 2013, nearly all on non-violent political charges, and forcibly disappeared hundreds of others. Egyptian prison conditions are notoriously appalling.

Since 2013, Human Rights Watch has reported thousands of torture complaints, including 830 in the year 2016 alone. Amnesty International has also used primary evidence to document hundreds of torture cases.

According to Amnesty International, torture methods include "electric shocks, rape, handcuffing detainees and suspending them from open doors" and "handcuffing the detainee's hands and legs to an iron rod and suspending the rod between two opposite chairs until the detainee's legs go numb."

An unfortunate glimpse into the kind of torture employed by Egypt's security forces was provided by the grisly murder of Italian graduate student Giulio Regeni, who was mutilated, burned and had his fingernails and toenails ripped out, all before his death in February 2016 at the hands of Egyptian security forces, something they continue to deny.

This pattern of systematic torture is in addition to generally poor prison conditions, including systematic malnourishment, the routine denial of medical treatment, and unsanitary conditions.

Read more: My dad came to Cairo for a family holiday. Instead, he disappeared

Unsurprisingly, deaths in detention are widespread. 

In 2013, more than 30 prisoners were gassed to death in the back of a police truck. Human Rights Watch documented at least 90 cases of detainee death in 2014, while a Swiss Human Rights group documented more than 300 cases of detainee death between 2013 and 2015. Human rights reports have documented similarly large detainee casualty figures for 2016, 2017 and 2018.

In late 2017, former Muslim Brotherhood General Guide Mohamed Mahdi Akef died in an Egyptian prison, while, according to reports, the health of former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh has also greatly deteriorated in jail.

The health conditions of Brotherhood figures Essam al-Haddad and his son, Gehad al-Haddad, have also worsened while in jail. According to the #FreeHaddad campaign, the elder al-Haddad has reportedly suffered four heart attacks since his incarceration.

Many of the journalists currently in Egyptian prisons - Egypt is one of the world's leading jailers of journalists - are also in poor health, according to reports. Prior to his release from prison earlier this year, photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zaid had also suffered from declining health.

The bigger picture

Morsi will be remembered as the first democratically elected leader in Egyptian history. In some ways, his election was a message from a subsection of the Egyptian citizenry fed up with authoritarianism.

More importantly, though, Morsi will be remembered, tragically, for the message that was delivered by Arab despots in the aftermath of his electoral victory - that democracy and freedom will not be tolerated.

Morsi's demise in jail is also the outcome that current Egyptian president Abdelfattah al-Sisi, who ousted Morsi in a coup in July 2013, likely desired

Morsi, then, will be remembered symbolically as a one of the key casualties of the Arab counter-revolutions.

If the Arab Spring protest movements of 2010-2012 served as powerful messages from Arab citizenries, then the counter-revolutionary movements launched by reactionary Arab governments have needed to be much more formidable.

The lesson Arab dictators drew from the Arab Spring was that they hadn't been harsh and repressive enough all those years - to allow a democratic uprising to have existed at all was a profound failure.

This is why Egypt's military, along with its donor allies in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have intensified repression.

The Saudis, Egyptians and Emiratis, along with their allies in Bahrain, are in the midst of an all-out war on democracy in the region. They have organised coups, killed journalists, and spent billions to violently disperse protests, disseminate propaganda, ban political parties, shut down media, and kill journalists.

The quartet's ongoing blockade against Qatar is illustrative - they resent Qatar because it supported the pro-democracy protests, and also because it owns a powerful, critical media outlet, Al-Jazeera, which, importantly, offered up favourable coverage of the Arab Spring.

His death from illness essentially lets the Egyptian government off the hook

Western governments shouldn't be absolved. America's Obama administration only begrudgingly accepted the ouster of former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak.

It then gave a proverbial green light for the coup against Morsi, and then refused to officially call the 2013 Egyptian takeover a "coup", a move which would have forced the US to stop sending military aid to Egypt.

In some ways, the Trump administration has been worse - it doesn't even pay much lip service to the promotion of democracy and human rights. Trump has lavished praise on Sisi, and is yet to release a statement about Morsi's death.

This silence - about the death of a former president of the largest country in the Arab world, and a US ally - is telling.

Will Morsi's death represent the continuation of an effort to bury the Arab Spring and ensure that it is never repeated? Or will his death breathe life back into pro-democracy circles, inside of Egypt and elsewhere in the region? Only time will tell. 

Mohamad Hamas Elmasry is an Associate Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, and an Assistant Professor of Communications at the University of North Alabama. He writes about the sociology of news, the media and race, and Egyptian politics and media.

Follow him on Twitter: @elmasry_mohamad

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.