Dr Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first and only democratically elected president, died in a cage. In a glass box in a Cairo courtroom this past Monday, in visibly poor health, he stood up for the latest session in his trial for ludicrous espionage charges.
By: AMR DARRAG AND YEHIA HAMED*
When the case was adjourned, he collapsed to the floor. His lawyer said that he could hear the other defendants banging on the sides of the cage. They were screaming that “Morsi had died.”
It was a tragic and yet inevitable end to the life of President Morsi. His death was little more than a cruel and protracted murder, a “slow death”—as the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies called it—and one that awaits so many of those jailed in Egypt. In the six years since Dr. Morsi was overthrown and supplanted by the general-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, he spent most of his time in solitary confinement, deprived of the small comfort of family visits and the rising necessity of medical care.
He was denied the legal resources needed to mount a defense against the false charges filed against him. He suffered without relief from grave health problems relating to his age and his diabetes. He endured bouts of fainting and a recurring diabetic coma. “Morsi’s treatment,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, “is a window into the appalling conditions suffered by thousands of political detainees in Egypt.”
President Mohamed Morsi was no criminal. He was a man of principle who paid for his commitment to freedom, the rule of law and democracy with his liberty for six long years. Now he has paid with his life. These values—the values in which he believed, and which he upheld without hesitation in even the most appalling and degrading conditions—are universal: Dr. Morsi fought not only for the emancipation of the Egyptian people from tyranny and repression, but for the rights of all people to be free.
Yet, though it these same values that the West purports to uphold, it has failed to defend them. Confronted with an elected president incarcerated on baseless charges and slurs, the international community, led by the West, did nothing. It did nothing even as a panel of senior lawyers and UK members of parliament concluded that Dr. Morsi’s treatment could ‘meet the threshold for torture’. It did nothing even as the head of that same panel, Crispin Blunt MP, said a man in his condition may not last long should his treatment fail to change.
All the while, Morsi’s usurper was left to commit crimes with increasing violence and caprice. There are illegal arrests, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings. Sixty thousand prisoners of conscience languish in Egyptian jails. Women who speak out against sexual harassment are arrested. More journalists are jailed on “false news” charges than in any other country in the world. In Northern Sinai, where a humanitarian crisis looms, Sisi uses arms bought from the USA and other countries to commit atrocities while evacuating vast swathes of land to play his part in the “Deal of the Century.”
Donald Trump’s open support for Sisi’s incumbent régime, and its tacit endorsement by Emmanuel Macron implied by his “reassurance” approach to foreign policy, has allowed Sisi to march a country of 100 million people to the brink of state failure. It seems the West’s indifference to President Morsi’s incarceration and suffering reflects its indifference to the violence and misery that now defines daily life in Egypt.
This is a story of a president left to rot by those who claimed to share his principles. The very least that the international community can do is conduct a robust and independent investigation without delay. It can use the sacrifice of President Morsi to shine a light on the horrors taking place in Egypt. It can honor his memory by affirming free speech, democracy and the rule of law in the face of those who deny them.
If not for their own sake, the West must affirm those values simply because across the Arab world, there are young people who have grown up in the belief that there exists a principled international community who stand guard over certain universal values. So unshakable are these nations in their defense of these values that the values themselves are sometimes called “Western.” Yet on Monday, it was clear that the West has shrugged these values off. Its failure to uphold them makes the world’s democratic states complicit in the slow murder of the first democratically chosen head of state in Egyptian history. With the death of President Morsi, what was left of the West’s democratic legitimacy in the eyes of the people of the Arab world and beyond fades away?
*Dr Amr Darrag and Yehia Hamed served in President Mohamed Morsi’s government as Minister of Planning and Minister of Investment, respectively.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.