Morsi wasn't perfect, but he was Egyptians' best hope

Morsi wasn't perfect, but when it mattered, he was Egyptians' best hope for freedom
6 min read

Sam Hamad

18 June, 2019
Comment: Morsi had his flaws, but in all the key ways he represented an emerging Egyptian democracy that challenged decades of ingrained tyranny, writes Sam Hamad.
Supporters in Istanbul attend a symbolic funeral ceremony for Morsi [AFP]
"This was slow death."

These are the words used to describe the last years of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first, only, and perhaps last ever democratically elected president, by his exiled Muslim Brotherhood comrade, Mohammed Sudan.  

For the past six years, Morsi has lived a life unworthy of living. Like most political prisoners locked away in Egypt's dungeons, in this case the much reviled El Mohaq, or Scorpion Prison, the conditions of his captivity were not even fit for an animal.  

During one of his failed pleas in court for adequate assessment by doctors in 2015, Morsi, who suffered from severe diabetes, once famously 
claimed that to eat the food provided to him in El Mohaq would lead to "a major crime," namely his death.  

Morsi knew that the authorities, while perhaps not brazen enough to outright murder him, were content to make his life as painful and tortuous as possible. There have been several independent accounts of the final painful years of Mohamed Morsi's life, but the main focus ought to be on why the president was forced to endure this persecution.

Ironically, following the overthrow of the Mubarak regime and the emergence of a fledgeling democracy, it was never supposed to be Morsi who ran for president for the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Brotherhood's political wing.

Morsi's 'undoing' was precisely because he was committed to democratic transition

The chosen one was the charismatic outspoken businessman and deputy supreme guide of the Brotherhood Khairat el-Shatar (himself currently on death row in Egypt). But the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) barred him from running and thus the relatively unknown Morsi was selected by the FJP to run for the presidency.

Most pro-democracy Egyptians will never forget the moment it was announced that Morsi had defeated the counter-revolutionary candidate Ahmed Shafiq. The sheer volume of the roar that emanated from those gathered in Tahrir Square sends shivers down the spine.

But it was never about Morsi the man, it was much more about what Morsi represented; the commitment from a majority of Egyptians to transition away from the tyranny that had ruled over and plundered the country for centuries. 

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

Even after Sisi's coup against Morsi, those pro-democracy protesters gathered at Rabaa and Nadha squares many were keen to emphasise that their presence there wasn't about devotion to Morsi, his party or the Muslim Brotherhood, but to the democracy that was being viciously dismantled before their eyes.

And though death came more swiftly for the protesters at Rabaa, the fact they faced the same ultimate fate as Morsi - to die at the hands of the regime for the "crime" of supporting democracy over a tyrannical counter-revolution - is the most important point.  

The impossibility of Morsi's task became clear early on in his administration

Though fatalism is not helpful in these matters, it's with retrospect that it's clear Morsi never really stood a chance as president. The impossibility of Morsi's task became clear early on in his administration.

In fact, one event, which might seem petty, stands out as the perfect encapsulation of how Morsi was doomed to fail. After footage emerged of him declaring that "the Zionists" had no right to any of historic Palestine, the feloul (Mubarak loyalists) reacted with hysteria, claiming that Morsi was an Islamic extremist who would rip up the Camp David accords and lead Egypt to war with Israel.

Roughly a week later, it emerged that Morsi had sent a letter to then Israeli president Shimon Peres expressing his commitment to peace between Egypt and Israel, prompting the same feloul, joined this time by some nominally pro-democracy liberals, to claim that Morsi was a Zionist.

Article continues below interactive timeline

According to his enemies, Morsi was simultaneously an Islamist who wanted war with nuclear-armed Israel, and a Zionist.

This situation summed up the solitary year of Morsi's democratic rule, a year defined by the ceaseless campaigning, both by overt means and by way of subterfuge, of the ruling elites to pave the way for a coup.

The intent was to 
intimately tie the image of Morsi and thus democracy, to economic and social chaos, to claim that Morsi was not a democrat, but a dangerous Islamist hellbent on creating an Islamic Republic in Egypt.  

Even as I write this, I notice a BBC commentator conceding that while Morsi briefly represented "change" in Egypt, his great undoing was his "Islamism" and his will to put the interests of the Brotherhood before the interests of Egypt.

Morsi represented the commitment from a majority of Egyptians to transition away from the tyranny that had ruled over and plundered the country for centuries.

While I'm not interested in hagiographies of Morsi, and I certainly didn't support much of the social aspect of his politics, or his reluctance to get rid of pre-existing laws against "insulting the presidency", the fact is, that Morsi's "undoing" was precisely because he was committed to democratic transition.

Far from trying to establish patronage to the Muslim Brotherhood, only 8 out of 36 cabinet ministers under Morsi's presidency were members of the FJP. The vast majority of cabinet ministers, including the prime minister Hisham Qandil, were independent technocrats.  

His government had all the hallmarks of a transitional reformist one designed to steer Egypt through turbulent times and further embed democracy.

Right up until the very moment that Sisi undertook a coup, Morsi could've been removed from office via a general election. Even if one believed Morsi to be inadequate or politically inept, he never put himself above democracy.

Even if one believed Morsi to be inadequate or politically inept, he never put himself above democracy

Though even liberal critics cite his infamous constitutional declaration of November 2012 as "power grabs," he was only giving himself such powers to counteract the anti-democratic activities of SCAF and the Supreme Constitutional Court, who were committed to undermining him at every turn, and threatening to dissolve Egypt's parliament.

When Morsi tried to devolve economic power back to Egyptians and away from Mubarak-era kleptocrats and foreign corporations, he was accused of trying to destroy the economy.  

When, in act of solidarity with the revolution in Syria, Morsi cut all ties with Assad's genocidal regime and supported a no-fly zone to protect civilians, he was depicted again as an Islamist extremist who was committing Egypt to "jihad".   

Similarly, Morsi defied decades of Egypt-Israel relations by refusing to blame Hamas for Israel's massacre in Gaza during "Operation Pillar of Defence," with members of his government visiting the Strip during a ceasefire in an act of solidarity.

All of these things were the final nails in the coffin of Egyptian democracy.

Morsi wasn't perfect and he wasn't some radical who had the will or means to solve all of Egypt's ills, but in all the key ways he represented emerging democracy against ingrained tyranny. He was an imperfect and uncharismatic antithesis of both Mubarak and Sisi.

Sisi could not openly execute Morsi, due to the potential for civil unrest, but he was also uncomfortable with the most powerful reminder of Egypt's alternative democratic path being kept alive. The result was the slow death of Mohamed Morsi.

Nelson Mandela once said that one doesn't truly know a nation until one understands how it treats its prisoners. Hopefully Egyptians begin to wonder why this man, who the regime slandered with absurd charges, was truly killed in this way.

Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer.

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