“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”
– Samuel Johnson
In a building much-feared by political prisoners, infamous for being a torture pit during former dictator Hosni Mubarak’s reign — partially transformed later to a court; former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has died.
In a glass cage inside an iron cage, in a court inside the Ministry of Interior’s Police Academy, former President Mohamed Morsi — who rose to power like no other Egyptian president before or after — through real elections — died minutes after addressing the tribunal where he was being prosecuted for a crime there was no evidence for.
The building’s history is similar to the January 25 Revolution in Egypt; it was principally built to function as training headquarters for police officers, but due to its vicinity to the most infamous prison zone in Egypt — the prison of Tura — a hotbed of torture under Mubarak’s reign, it was partially converted to a tribunal for political prisoners following Morsi’s overthrow and the military’s takeover.
The Revolution that mostly raised civil and secular slogans that embodied freedom, social justice, and human dignity, soon witnessed a rise of religious catchphrases. This conspired following an alliance between the military junta, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Salafis, followed by a deal which allowed the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power. ٍٍSoon after, there was a military coup d’etat; the Revolution’s supporters were persecuted, especially after General Sissi’s explicit warning, “what happened seven years ago will not happen again.”
Former president Mohamed Morsi’s rise to power was extremely controversial; he was nominated by the M.B. as an alternate presidential candidate in case their first the influential Khairat el-Shater — was rejected. Indeed, el-Shater’s nomination was rejected due to past convictions, and Morsi was pushed forward. In the same vein, Morsi’s death came to raise controversy for its tragic circumstances, as he died while being tried for unproven charges such as “conspiring with Hamas.” He was deprived of the most fundamental rights of prisoners, evidenced by the treatment received by another jailed president, Hosni Mubarak, who was detained in conditions prisoners in Scandinavia would be envious of; held in luxurious hospital suites, allowed numerous visits from fans and supporters, with treatment full of respect from the police, the judiciary, and the media.
The conditions of which the Late President Mohamed Morsi was detained under were the complete opposite. He was confined in solitary for prolonged periods and deprived of visits from lawyers and family members for more than a year. Moreover, his trials were full of reprimands, taunts, and abuses by judges, and the media’s defamation of him was quite usual.
General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s massive publicity machine and the blatant patriotic outbid both had significant impacts, not only on ordinary citizens who thought that patriotism means keeping silence on oppression, but it also extended to many intellectuals, politicians, and even human rights lawyers and activists who denounced previous calls to berate the ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak during his trial yet ignored the inhuman and unfair conditions suffered by Morsi. Some of them even blessed this abuse, to the extent of reprimanding anyone who expressed humane sympathy or denounced this treatment; whether it was criticizing his prison conditions, ignoring his rights as a prisoner, denying his family of a funeral service, or preventing them to receive mourners.
President of Necessity
Mohamed Morsi was not the best choice for a president following the January Revolution, but he became a necessary one so as to prevent the return of Mubarak’s regime in the person of his close friend and former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq. Therefore, he received 52 percent of total votes, with help from many supporters of the Revolution who were known as “lemon squeezers;” people who were forced to give him their vote in the second round of elections to prevent Shafiq’s win rather than to support of Morsi or the Muslim Brotherhood.
Just as the M.B. retracted their promises to not run for presidency, Morsi retracted his promises too: he supported the military council, bestowed honor on its leaders, and appointed the defense minister responsible for carrying out ‘virginity tests’ on Egyptian girls, the one who was subsequently described by M.B. leaders as “committed, steadfast, religious and strong.” He then enacted a constitutional declaration which granted him divine powers and crushed judicial independence by dismissing the public prosecutor. His already-fragile popularity quickly broke down, providing the Revolution’s opponents and the former regime with an opportunity to aggravate the conflict and to organize themselves to attack not only him and his party but also the Revolution and its supporters.
Who’s gonna pay the bill?
The number of martyrs in the Revolution reveals the extent of hostility it faced by successive regimes. According to statistics and estimates from the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), there were:
● About 841 martyrs in 18 days; the period of the January revolution under Mubarak’s rule
● About 215 martyrs in the 18 months that followed the January revolution under the military junta’s rule
● Nearly 154 martyrs during a year under President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule
● At least 632 martyrs were killed during the sit-in of Rabaa al-Adawiya during the interim President’s rule and the command and control of General Sisi.
These figures indicate the extent of each party’s crimes. However, through General Sisi’s regime’s media control, deterioration of judicial independence, and under the system of fear gripping Egypt, it became imperative for everyone to attribute all crimes to the Muslim Brotherhood represented by Mohamed Morsi. This comes even though his rule lasted for just a year, and that logic dictates that leaders of each regime should be responsible for their own deeds. But this didn’t happen.
Indeed, Muhammad Morsi committed political crimes, but he was not the only criminal nor the first. Yet every one had to obey the will of the new authority — General Sisi’s, either voluntarily or by force. The voices that called for humane or even legal treatment for Morsi became discordant; its patriotism contested and accused of defending the Brotherhood.
The overthrow of a possible dictatorship in favor of a real one
Many of Morsi’s and M.B.’s opponents claimed that if Morsi’s rule came to last more than a year, Egypt would’ve inevitably have come to resemble Afghanistan under the Taliban, or that it would’ve been torn apart like Syria under Bashar and ISIS’s rule. They supported their speculations with a number of signs which emerged that year, such as the silence on incitements against Egyptian Shiites, the rise of extremist and militant discourse within Salafist jihadists, and even using the numerous attacks on churches that followed the dismantling of the Rabiaa sit-in to demonstrate the deteriorating outcome that would’ve been actualized if the Brotherhood came to power.
But the M.B. couldn’t take total in control, and most of the speculations on what might’ve happened were just odds and prospects; Morsi was overthrown, and Sisi took over. And since then, deteriorations in human rights and freedoms didn’t stop, with perpetrated violations that didn’t exclude anyone.
These Violations are not so secretive, yet they are blatant and brutal; confiscations, banning journalists and critical voices, blatant unlawful killings in Sinai, forced disappearances, unfair trials, and throwing journalists in jails. Moreover, fabricating charges against civil society; preventing its leaders from leaving the country and freezing their funds, and even more, employing sectors of the justice system to confront advocates of democracy.
Patriotism came to be now in praising Sisi, where he is both the homeland and the state! Hence, accusations of treason and clientelism are the critics’ fate, regardless of their field of work; whether it was economic, political, human, or even cultural and artistic. And apparently, Sisi understands everything, “I did not promise you anything;” “Don’t listen to anyone else;” “Start your day by donating a pound to Egypt,” and “We have many achievements, but we hide them from the bad guys.” These are some of Sisi’s famous statements, echoed by the media on an almost daily basis.
Although about six years have passed since Sisi called on Egyptians to grant him a mandate to fight potential terrorism, yet terrorist crimes have risen and still are. This promoted many supporters of the January Revolution as well as advocates of democracy to voice their concern that the war Sisi is waging is actually a war on the Revolution and on democracy.
Why does the Sisi regime prevail?
Look to the Muslim Brotherhood for the answer. Morsi was pushed forward by the M.B. for being “religious, committed, and zealous.” The persistent hostility based on “religious” reasons, the exaggerated glorification of another dictatorial regime in Turkey (Erdogan’s), their followers open hatred of secularism, their refusal to acknowledge crimes committed under their rule, their gloating over most of the civil and democratic symbols who fell victim to Sisi’s oppression, in addition to the latter’s success at pinning terrorist crimes on Islamic extremists, all has made many opponents and critics of Sisi fall between two troubling choices: a military oppression under Sisi or religious oppression under a Muslim Brotherhood rule?
A dilemma and a difficult choice indeed, but it goes in the interest of the military regime that will not punish you for the food you eat, the drinks you consume, or the clothes you wear, but will punish you for your politics. As for the religious regime as interpreted by the M.B., it will hold you accountable for your clothes, food, and drinks, and even what ideas you embrace in your heart. And of course, it will accuse you of heresy if you dared to criticize their religion-based governance. This may explain the immense fear and hatred of the M.B. felt by many Egyptians, particularly by Christians and Nationalists.
It was to no surprise then that many of them breathed a sigh of relief at the death of former President Mohamed Morsi. This isn’t necessarily out of personal enmity, but because his death might close the door for advocates for a religious state and their demands for the return of the “legitimate president,” in their point of view, at least.
And then what?
This is a cul-de-sac for Sisi; while a decrease in terrorism due to “extremists losing their legitimate president” will expose his regime in their use of terrorism as justification for oppression and quell, an uptick in retaliatory terrorist attacks will raise public anger due to his regime’s failure in countering it despite the granted popular mandate to do that six years ago.
On the other hand, although Morsi’s death might strengthen the extremist wings in the M.B. who support violence, it will give its prevalent wings, especially its imprisoned leaders and members, a motive to build bridges and negotiate with Sisi, especially that the “legitimacy” phase has come to an end.
Morsi’s death will also put more burden on the movement for democracy, already weakened by the ongoing repression and persecution since 2016. The possibility of reconciliation between Sisi and the Brotherhood means that the enemies of democracy will unite against it. But if terrorism grew worse, Sisi will continue to use it as a pretext for more oppression, hence causing more instability and fragmentation amongst its ranks.
Therefore, the death of Mohamed Morsi comes as a significant variable in the conflict’s process; it may result in substantial shifts in the form and rules of the political game in Egypt. As for this change’s commencement and who’s going to commence it; we will know in the coming months.
Gamal Eid is a Lawyer and Director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.