On June 17, Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected president of Egypt, tragically died in court. According to reports, Morsi collapsed and subsequently passed away. In reaction to Morsi’s death, 12 think tanks published a total of 18 papers. These publications dealt with Morsi’s lack of necessary and lawful treatment in prison, lack of coverage surrounding his death, and the impact of his death on neighboring countries. The unfortunate event was not surprising as the ill treatment of prisoners has been well documented by many think tanks. Although Egypt’s Prosecutor General’s Office statement did not declare the cause of the passing of Morsi, it is evident that state authorities and prison officials have been involved at minimum indirectly in his death.
Morsi was one of many who were imprisoned by his successor, current President Abdelfattah al-Sisi, on the basis of political affiliation and inciting violence during protests. (1) Going through multiple trials, the critical juncture occurred when Morsi and his fellow colleagues were sentenced to death in 2015. Ultimately, this ruling was overturned, and so Morsi was currently serving a 48 year sentence. (2) Morsi was on retrial in an espionage case when he died after falling into a coma. (3)
Morsi’s death was unexpected in timing yet not surprising in context with 3 UK parliamentarians foreshadowing this horrific situation in April 2018, stating about Morsi’s treatment in prison that “he could face a premature death.” (4) According to Human Rights Watch, the Egyptian government did not provide medical care to Morsi despite both his repeated requests and his apparent deteriorating health. (5) Morsi was a diabetic and frequently noted that his worsening health was attributed to the lack of care regarding his insulin intake and diet. (6) In addition, Morsi’s family had only been able to visit him three times which most likely had an impact on his mental health. (7) Therefore, it is clear that Morsi’s death was impacted by both the Egyptian government and the prison officials.
The lack of coverage of Morsi’s death is a testament to the repressive state that Sisi has instilled. For the majority of newspapers in Egypt, the passing of Morsi did not even make the front page. Even more remarkable is the severance of Morsi to his former position of presidency, reducing the coverage to merely “a citizen by the name of Mohamed Morsi al-Ayat died yesterday during a court hearing on espionage charges.” (8) (9) The timing of Morsi’s death is also significant since Egypt was getting ready to host the African Cup of Nations a few days after. Coincidentally, the proximity of both events meant that the African Cup of Nations would garner the attention of the Egyptian people and consequently be a distraction away from Morsi’s death. (10) Hence, it is clear that the current Egyptian regime is heavily involved in controlling the narrative of Morsi’s death.
The response of neighboring countries to the death of Morsi was mixed. In nations such as Tunisia, Morocco, and Jordan, there was a sentiment of sympathy for different sects as well as for different reasons. To illustrate, the death of a renowned figure of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood had an emotional blow to the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood. Questions remain as to whether this critical juncture will be the catalyst for change within the organization considering the fragmentation of its members, especially in Egypt. (11) For Tunisia’s Ennahda’s party which previously distanced itself from the Muslim Brotherhood beginning in 2011, saw an opportunity to convey sympathy to the pro-Morsi base ahead of the national elections. (12) On the other hand, certain Gulf states took the opportunity to reiterate their negative stance on political Islam. (13) For example, the Emirates, via its media, stated that the Brotherhood is a terrorist organisation and therefore presents a domestic and an external threat. (14)
What is next for the Muslim Brotherhood after the fall of one of its well-renowned member? According to Alison Parteger, visiting Senior Research Fellow at the School of Security Studies, King’s College London, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood should focus on rebuilding relations with opposition parties who might have fallen out of line with the group when Morsi was in power. (15) If the Muslim Brotherhood hopes to be relevant as it once was in Egypt, then it must also overcome the barrier of repression, that is, the Egyptian regime. In addition, Parteger argues that the rhetoric echoed by the General Bureau (faction based in Turkey) claiming that the MB will now turn to revolutionary/violent tactics is misplaced since the MB is in no position to ignite any kind of rebellion. (16) Ultimately, Parteger suggests that the MB take this scenario as an opportunity to revive itself through new tactics.
The Working Group on Egypt’s Letter to Secretary of State Pompeo best summarizes the impact of Morsi’s death. Morsi was one of approximately 60,000 political prisoners who were imprisoned after the military coup in 2013. (17) It is worrisome to ponder about the quality of treatment offered by both government and prison officials to the many who were put in prison without receiving due process. The premature death of Morsi must encourage people to question the repressive Egyptian state and also to prevent future premature deaths or permanent damage to the thousands currently in prison.
(2), (3), (5), (6), (7) https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/06/17/egypt-independently-investigate-morsys-death
(13), (14) https://carnegieendowment.org/sada/79423