My father was president of Egypt. Now he’s in solitary confinement

Egypt’s ousted Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, stands behind bars during his 2015 trial in Cairo. (Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)
Egypt’s ousted Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, stands behind bars during his 2015 trial in Cairo. (Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)

The only legitimately elected president Egypt ever had has now been in jail for almost five years. My father, Mohamed Morsi, won with 52 percent of the vote in 2012, when we experienced the first and last truly democratic election in our country’s history. He was imprisoned following a bloody military coup in 2013. The so-called presidential election that is about to take place on March 26-28, by contrast, is a farce.

Of the seven opposition candidates in Egypt, only one has been allowed to run against Abdel Fatah al-Sissi. His name is Moussa Mostafa Moussa, and he is the leader of the Ghad Party. He claims to be a member of the opposition, but the fact that he has spent much of his time in recent months collecting the signatures of 25,000 Egyptian citizens in support of Sissi makes it clear that this claim is a mockery.

And as for the others? Some have been arrested, and others have withdrawn. Some of those who have done the latter made their decisions based on the absurd way the election is being run, while others have been threatened or assaulted. Given that our “choice” is limited to a violent autocrat and a clearly complacent puppet, we Egyptians will be unable to freely exercise our right to vote.

We have been allowed to see my father only twice, and the conditions in which he is being kept are appalling. Held under constant solitary confinement, he is being denied medical treatment for serious conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes, to the point that he has lost most of the sight in his left eye. We fear that the Egyptian authorities are doing this on purpose, since they want to see him dead “from natural causes” as soon as possible. These conditions are a mirror of the current state of Egyptian democracy: held prisoner under the guise of so-called anti-terrorism procedures, mistreated and forgotten by most in the international community.

Indeed, after praising the 2011 Arab Spring and the emancipation of the Egyptian people from President Hosni Mubarak’s iron rule, the international community was unable to accept the fact that Egyptians had voted overwhelmingly for my father and his party. Our right to vote freely was suddenly less than sacrosanct because we had chosen an “Islamist.” The West’s support for the military coup that followed enshrined these double standards in place.

Since then, nothing has been done to prevent Egypt from slipping back into dictatorship. When thousands of supporters of Morsi were shot on Rabaa Square in 2013 — killing some 817 people, according to Human Rights Watch — nothing was said. When mass trials condemned hundreds of innocent people to death or to lifelong imprisonment, the world remained silent. This complacency continued when stories of forced disappearances and torture broke through into the international media. The feeble diplomatic response amounts to a crude endorsement of a regime actively involved in repression, kidnapping, fake trials and death sentences.

The West’s position toward Sissi has been based on the false premise that arresting Islamist political leaders is a necessary part of the fight against extremism. Western politicians apparently accept the scaremongering narrative that the Muslim Brotherhood has a hidden agenda. This narrative is reinforced by the distinction constantly made in the international media between “Islamist” Egyptian political prisoners and secular, leftist Egyptian political prisoners. The unfair trials and illegal detention of the latter are often portrayed as somehow more shocking than those of the former.

The brutal crackdown on every form of mainstream political dissent — whether it be the media, civil society, Muslim Brotherhood supporters or liberal parties — has only helped the Sinai branch of the Islamic State to recruit newly radicalized Egyptians.

So how many more reports does the international community need before acting? How many more disappearances? How many more jailed presidents?

My family and I cannot wait for any more. Two weeks ago, at our urging, three British parliamentarians set up an independent detention review panel to assess my father’s detention conditions. The panel sent a request to the Egyptian government asking to visit Tora Prison, where we believe he is being held. We received no response.

Western governments appear undeterred. In 2014, France and Egypt signed an arms deal that boosted the sale of weapons to Egypt by 37 percent over the previous year. That same year, the United States — which continues to be a major backer of the Egyptian military — sent Cairo $1.3 billion in military aid.

If this weren’t enough, a recent U.N. report contains evidence that Egypt has become a trans-shipment point for North Korean weaponry. Yet however rogue the Egyptian state becomes, it does not seem to change anything. So why won’t they allow us to visit my father? If they are concerned that asking to visit a prisoner is a threat to their reputation — whereas holding arms from North Korea is not — they must have something appalling to hide. We need answers, and we need them now.

Abdullah Morsi, a university student in Cairo, is the son of Mohamed Morsi, the jailed former president of Egypt.

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