Mohamed Morsi was buried in a closed funeral on Tuesday, almost exactly seven years after making history as Egypt’s first president elected in free and democratic elections. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that his was an assassination in everything but name.
Morsi was held in terrible and inhumane conditions since the Egyptian military overthrew his government close to six years ago. There had been many warnings about his deteriorating health, including from a British parliamentary delegation that visited Egypt last year. They concluded that, “If Morsi is not provided with adequate medical care soon, the consequences could be his premature death.” At 67, Morsi was relatively young, but the notorious so-called Scorpion Prison where he was held is less a prison and more a grave.
Not that Morsi did not understand the personal cost to challenging the military’s domination of political and public life in Egypt. In June 2012, he told an Egyptian television anchor that assuming executive authority in Egypt was a “kind of suicide.” In December of that year, he told me that if he were successful in navigating Egypt toward democracy, he expected to be assassinated. But his determination to serve his country despite the dangers does not diminish the shock and horror of his death. Now Morsi’s killers should be held accountable.
I was first introduced to Mohamed Morsi in May of 2012, shortly after he became the Freedom and Justice Party’s presidential candidate. Egypt had just gone through an unprecedented revolution, and hopes were high for a democratic future. I advised him on media and communications during the campaign, and we developed a very close relationship. After the campaign, I shuttled back and forth between Cairo and my home in Canada to assist with various issues. There were many failures during the year Morsi was in office, but also many successes. The former have been amplified by many, the latter muted.
Morsi was a deeply caring man, and in many ways, a successful statesman. He cared about his country and about Egyptians. He refused to implement drastic cuts to fuel and food subsidies that would have disproportionately affected the poor and the middle class. Instead, he directed his cabinet to focus on reforming the subsidy regime to eliminate corruption and improve benefits. His fight against corruption added to the forces arraigned against him. Corruption was and remains big business in Egypt.
Born in a village in rural Egypt, Morsi never lost a strong sense of connection with poor and struggling Egyptians. The Presidential Palace could host a delegation of tribal leaders from Sinai in the morning and then welcome Hillary Clinton or Catherine Ashton in the afternoon. Morsi could exist and move in both worlds, but his heart was firmly planted in Egyptian soil.
His death has significant implications. The military regime in Cairo still holds thousands of Egyptians in brutal conditions. It has already executed dozens, and its courts have sentenced thousands more to death. Europe and the United States are complicit in Morsi’s death through their support of the military regime. If they continue to be silent in the face of this crime, Egypt’s military dictatorship will be further emboldened, more people will be imprisoned and killed, and Egypt will fall further down into the abyss of oppression.
Moreover, Egypt’s rulers are not the only authoritarians watching the world’s reaction to Morsi’s death. The Sudanese and Algerians are watching, too, as they weigh how to extinguish their democracy movements.
At the end of the presidential campaign in 2012, I had no plans to return to Egypt. I had stumbled into politics and was intent on returning to my normal life as an academic and physician in Canada. Morsi would joke that it would be difficult for me to retreat from the front lines of world events. I told him that my secret plan was to have him sign an Egyptian flag, which I would then auction off when he became president.
Our last meeting during the campaign was in the early hours of June 15, 2012. As we prepared to go our separate ways, he turned to me and asked if I had brought a flag. Indeed, I had. His autograph reads, “The Egypt that lives in my imagination: An Egypt of values and civilization; an Egypt of growth and stability and love. And its flag, ever soaring above us.”
That vision may seem exceedingly far from the reality of Egypt today, but it is the vision for which Morsi was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. May it not be in vain.
Wael Haddara is an Egyptian Canadian physician and academic who served as a senior adviser to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi from 2012-2013.