Morsi’s Death Represents the Demise of Hope for Democracy in Egypt

June 19, 2019

Professor Seif Da'na discusses the circumstances under which former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi collapsed and died and the Egyptian government's fear of an uprising

Mohamed Morsi, the only popularly-elected president of Egypt, collapsed and died in a courtroom where he was being tried on espionage charges. Most of the witnesses said Morsi was left slumped to the floor for up to a half an hour before he received any medical attention. The Egyptian government vehemently denies these allegations. The death of Morsi, elected with 51 percent of the vote on the heels of the Arab Spring, symbolizes for many the demise of hope for democracy in Egypt.

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and secular activists alike are languishing in the jails of the current president, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The Muslim Brotherhood claims that Morsi was murdered and that the current Egyptian government who refused to provide Morsi treatment “implemented an incremental killing process throughout six years.” The Egyptian government fears a nationwide uprising. Egyptian security forces are on high alert.

“I would agree that President Morsi was experiencing a slow death because of the mistreatment. I mean, all that we have to do is to compare the five star treatment that Mubarak received a few years back and the mistreatment that President Morsi received,” Seif Da'na told The Real News Network's Marc Steiner. “The Egyptian authorities were familiar with declining medical conditions of President Morsi. There is no reason to doubt the reports that we're talking about medical neglect or neglecting his medical condition, or not receiving the proper medical care that he should receive as a prisoner.”

Morsi was overthrown by al-Sisi in a military coup and faced a number of charges, including terrorism and espionage. The charges and subsequent court proceedings were criticized by human rights groups such as Amnesty International.

Da'na explained that Morsi’s death demands an inquiry, but any inquiry by al-Sisi's government could not be trusted: “[Morsi's death] requires an investigation, but we cannot verify the idea of poisoned food or all these things without an impartial committee, which is again a problematic issue in itself at this point.” Steiner explained that fear of al-Sisi's government runs so deep that The Real News Network could not find any Egyptians in Egypt to discuss Morsi's death due to fear of retaliation.

“For his supporters and followers and the Muslim Brotherhood—which is a very popular movement, a strong movement not only in Egypt but all over the Arab and Muslim world—to believe that one of their symbols have been assassinated [and] if they don't believe that he was assassinated, that his death [was due to neglect] … is going to be a major event in the contemporary politics of Egypt,” Da’na said.


Morsi's Death Represents the Demise of Hope for Democracy in Egypt

Story Transcript

MARC STEINER Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you all with us. Mohamed Morsi was the only popularly-elected president of Egypt. He died in a courtroom where he was being tried. After speaking, he collapsed and while the Egyptian government vehemently denies these allegations, most of the witnesses said Morsi was left slumped to the floor for up to a half an hour before given any medical attention. People can critique Morsi’s time in office. He was elected with 51 percent of the vote on the heels of the Arab Spring, but his death comes to symbolize for many the demise of hope for democracy in Egypt. Members of his Muslim Brotherhood, and secularist activists and leaders alike, are languishing in the jails of the current president, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

The fear runs so deep, we could not find any Egyptians in Egypt to join us today out of fear of retaliation. Morsi’s body was buried quickly and quietly with only a handful of family members present, as the Egyptian government feared a nationwide uprising. The Muslim Brotherhood claims that Morsi was murdered, and Egyptian security forces are on high alert, anticipating Friday prayers and see what will happen then. Talaat Fahmi, the spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, spoke at a symbolic funeral service held in Istanbul, Turkey in honor of Mohamed Morsi. This is what he said.

TALAAT FAHMI, MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD SPOKEMAN Those coup leaders have killed Dr. Mohamed Morsi. They have implemented an incremental killing process throughout six years. They refused him medicine, refused him treatment. They did not allow him to see a doctor or go to the hospital. They refused him contact with his family, refused him contact with lawyers. He said that at the court, he was served poisoned food. He was experiencing loss of consciousness from diabetes. He was held in solitary detention for six years. The government, those coup leaders, have killed more than 800 people throughout the past six years in prison. People don’t eat, they don’t drink, and they do not receive any treatments. It is not unusual for those coup leaders to kill this man.

MARC STEINER World leaders and Muslim groups from around the Middle East sent their condolences, calling Morsi a “shaheed,” an Arabic term which means a martyr, someone who in death can testify to his faith in God. People who die of natural causes are rarely called a shaheed. We are joined today by Seif Da’na, who is a Professor and Chair of the Sociology-Anthropology Department at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Seif, welcome back to The Real News. Good to have you with us.

SEIF DA’NA Thank you, Marc.

MARC STEINER So let me just begin from the top with the obvious question here. I mean, how likely is it that Morsi was actually murdered by the Egyptian government? Is it likely that after six years of imprisonment and neglect, it just took their toll, and he died because of the stress of how he’s being kept? I mean, what do you—How do we analyze this? How do we know the reality?

SEIF DA’NA Well, first of all, what happened was a serious tragedy. I would agree that President Morsi was experiencing a slow death because of the mistreatment. I mean, all we have to do is to compare the five-star treatment that Mubarak received a few years back, and the mistreatment that President Morsi received. The Egyptian authorities were familiar with the declining medical condition of President Morsi. The reports, and there is no reason to doubt the reports that were talking about medical neglect or neglecting his medical condition, or not receiving the proper medical care that he should receive as a prisoner. That’s a basic right of any prisoner—- basically, to receive the proper medical care. It’s clear that he did not receive that. His family were unable to visit him for six years except three times. According to the Egyptian law, they should be allowed to visit him at least once a month, so that didn’t happen. He was in some sort of a total isolation, actually. Now to talk about intended assassination, that’s a totally different thing which requires an impartial, transparent investigation, which is very problematic in itself at this point—

MARC STEINER Which probably will not happen.

SEIF DA’NA That’s a very complicated issue. I mean, it’s not that I am against it, but the experience of such international committees, for example, before in the Middle East, make this very doubtful, make people very doubtful about these committees or commissions of an investigation because they have been politicized. The case of President Morsi has been politicized, or his death has been politicized, from moment one by all sides actually. But essentially, President Morsi was mistreated. He did not receive his basic rights as a prisoner. Regardless of anything, there are basic rights according to Egyptian law, according to international law, that he should have received, and he did not. Whether or not the Egyptian government intended for this to lead to his eventual death, is another issue. As I said, it requires an investigation, but we cannot verify the idea of poisoned food or all these things without such an impartial committee, which is again a problematic issue in itself at this point. We can talk about it but it’s—

MARC STEINER No, I agree with you. But so, I’m curious. You know, when I said at the beginning of this program today together that we contacted, I contacted, a number of people in Egypt to join us. They would not join us because they were worried about what might happen to them if they were seen on national-international television anywhere. And so, when we examine the el-Sisi government, and all the other authoritarian rulers across the globe— whether we’re talking about Erdogan in Turkey, or Orban in Hungary, Modi in India, some people say Trump here in the United States— there’s a clear difference here. So I’m curious what you think all this means. He constantly persecutes the opposition. He puts people in jail. They mowed down 813 people in the streets after they arrested Morsi in 2013, so talk a bit about what this regime is, and why he’s so scared of Morsi, and what all this really means in the political context.

SEIF DA’NA Well, two things. President Morsi first was elected. Thirteen and a half, or almost thirteen and a half million people gave him his votes, so he’s a democratically-elected president. There is no doubt about this. He was overthrown by a military coup by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Since Sisi took over the Presidency of Egypt, Egypt has been experiencing basically a very authoritarian dictatorship in the sense that even the simple critique of the president or the regime in Egypt is not even allowed. Actually, one of the things, despite—And I was one of the people who wrote and criticized President Morsi during his term, or during the year he was in office, for what I called catastrophic mistakes that he committed. If we compare the two periods— the Morsi period and the Sisi period— of course, all the comparison will be in favor of President Morsi. There were no such practices like the practices taking place right now.

We have thousands and thousands of people in prison. Human rights violations, daily human rights violations, is very well-documented by human rights organizations internationally. As you said, you couldn’t find one Egyptian commentator to come on your show and comment on the death of their former president, a very significant event actually in Egypt’s politics. That is very telling that they are concerned about their safety afterwards or about the regime’s reaction. We have well-documented cases of people who were thrown into prison and, of course, received very difficult treatment— let alone, torture is also well-documented. And they’re not really from the Muslim Brotherhood. They were actually secular activists. One of them actually, it was announced that he will be released I think this week, Alaa Abdel Fattah, who is not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and his accusations are actually false and actually phony as well. He is not in the Muslim Brotherhood and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people like him who don’t belong to the Muslim Brotherhood organization or are not even sympathizers with the Muslim Brotherhood, but they are concerned about their country, concerned about Egypt, and the practices of the president, and they were thrown into prison.

In the case of President Morsi, he wasn’t only overthrown by a military coup, which is really what happened, but all the accusations against the president seem really phony. To accuse the president of cooperation with another country like Qatar, that was part of his job as president to communicate with that country. Regardless again of the politics, if you agree or disagree with the politics of that president, his coordination with Hamas is another phony accusation. The former President Mubarak’s regime was in contact with Hamas through their intelligence. The current Sisi regime also is in touch and in communication with Hamas, and they have been brokering the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. So to accuse Morsi of doing the same thing and sentence him to life in prison in one of the cases, is one of those phony accusations again and you can take this case to reflect the cases of hundreds, if not thousands, of Egyptians, Egyptian activists who are in prison now on phony accusations really.

MARC STEINER So, Seif, in the context of what you just said, you know, the Muslim Brotherhood was able to win those elections in 2012, 51 percent of the vote. Many people, as you said, would agree that Morsi handled the government badly. I mean, he created divides that didn’t have to be there. He never attempted to build something that was broader and those demonstrations against him, that’s what they used as an excuse to have a coup, the military did. My question is now where do you think this goes from here? I mean, clearly Egyptian society is divided. I think the majority of Egyptians oppose what the military regime is doing, but they’re evenly split almost, as you can see from the election where Morsi won. So, what does their future portend? Where does this take it all? You have Trump, you know, who is convinced by Sisi some say to call the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, which adds to the international fervor for all of this. You’ve got the head of Turkey coming in, condemning this, and calling it a murder and him a martyr, Morsi a martyr. I mean, I’m curious where you think this takes both Egypt internally, but what are the international ramifications of this as well?

SEIF DA’NA Well, let’s make one thing clear. There is no justification whatsoever for the mistreatment of any prisoner anywhere in the world—

MARC STEINER Absolutely.

SEIF DA’NA And, let alone, that we’re talking about a democratically-elected president in this case, who was mistreated in a very clear way. We’ve seen the images from the court in on many occasions and it’s obvious that he was mistreated. All you have to do is just compare that with what happened with President Mubarak before, the treatment that the former President Mubarak received before, so this is one thing. There is no question about this. Regardless of how catastrophic the politics of Morsi was, or his failure to do anything, but that’s a red line that no government should—But, in this case, we’re talking about literally, seriously a despotic regime in Egypt. That has been the way President Sisi handled the situation in Egypt from day one, using the security forces as a first option to deal with his opponents, or actually activists who are demanding basic things.

The second thing is, regardless of—I mean, it’s very difficult to see any legitimacy for the military coup that Sisi led against Morsi. Particularly now, we know that the movement that was called Tamarod that was spearheaded, a popular protest in Egypt against President Morsi, this very much disappeared now, which basically means that it was guided by essentially the Sisi camp. Anyway, the sad part about this tragedy is it’s being politicized from day one by all sides, unfortunately. I’m sure that the Muslim Brotherhood movement and the non-Muslim Brotherhood activists are very sad for the loss of the president. He’s been a symbol to them, but we’ve seen attempts to politicize that case. On the other side, we’ve seen attempts to politicize his death by the other side, by President Erdogan of Turkey, by Qatar and by other countries. Unfortunately, that did not allow for the proper burial or allow even to give his family the time to grieve.

In this case, we’ve seen calls for investigations, international investigations, and that’s part of the politicization of the case. The issue here is for the Egyptians— and they are right about this, the Egyptian government— this is a matter of sovereignty, and they can make this claim at this point. Actually, they can be convincing about that because unfortunately, previous experiences in the Middle East with international commissions of such nature have been also politicized. We only have to see the case of Rafic Hariri’s assassination in Lebanon and how the international commission has been used as a ploy by the international forces against Syria at one time, like that against Hezbollah another time. It is very hard to trust such commissions. On the other side, we know that it is very difficult to imagine that the Sisi regime would actually carry out— if they do actually— any transparent, impartial investigation in this case. They won’t.

MARC STEINER And I won’t hold my breath.

SEIF DA’NA Any attempt to do such a thing will be also manipulated by the Sisi regime for his own benefit. What we know is this is a major event in the modern politics of Egypt, so it’s going to have significant consequences. We don’t know how it will unfold in the future, but this is not just a simple issue. It’s a president who was elected by 51 percent of the population, democratically-elected probably in the first and only fair elections in the history of modern Egypt. He received 13.5 million votes. Regardless of anything, he was democratically-elected. Now, we still have his followers and people who accept the premise of the Arab Spring— which I disagree with— was about democracy or liberal democracy. I think there were socio-economic demands at the heart of the Arab Spring, but that’s not really the issue at this point.

For his supporters and followers and the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which is a very popular movement, a strong movement not only in Egypt but all over the Arab and Muslim world, to believe that one of their symbols has been assassinated is— even if they don’t believe that he was assassinated— that his death in this case, the mistreatment, the improper burial, which was highly undignified by the Egyptian tradition and by the Muslim culture and tradition, I think that would lead to reactions and consequences that would not be simple in the future. I think we have to wait and see, but it is going to be a major event in the contemporary politics of Egypt.

MARC STEINER I think we’re just in the beginning of what’s about to unfold because of all of this. Seif Da’na, I want to thank you once again for joining us here at Real News. We deeply appreciate your time and your thoughts and look forward to talk to you again very soon.

SEIF DA’NA Thank you, Marc.

MARC STEINER And The Real News will stay on top of this, obviously. I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News. Thanks for joining us. Take care.