Rise & Fall of Democracy in Egypt – Column

From the days of ancient Egypt over three millenniums ago when the pharaohs, the God-like Monarchs, ruled the country until the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic regime in 2011, Egypt had never known an elected, democratic Government. However, following the florescence of Arab Spring and the huge demonstrations against his regime, Mubarak was forced to resign in July 2011. Mohamed Morsi, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood Party, was popularly elected president in a free election in 2012. He was the first and only person ever elected to rule the country by popular consent.

In July 2013, however, he was ousted by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, his hand-picked army chief, and imprisoned. The Muslim Brotherhood was banned in Egypt and thousands of its members jailed or killed. Although elected to a four-year term, Morsi would serve only a year in office– June 2012-July 2013.On June 17, 2019,Mohamed Morsi died in a Cairo court, whilst attending enclosed in a soundproof glass cage one of many trial she was facing on manufactured charges– the inhumane treatment designed to both humiliate and silence him. The former president who had been sentenced to more than 65 years in jail, spent six years in solitary confinement and was permitted only three family visits by the military Government. He was 67 years old. The treatment meted out to Morsi is not uncommon in developing countries, where former politicians often become victims of new rulers’ vindictiveness.

The Egyptian State TV announced that Morsi had died of a heart attack, but no autopsy was performed to reach a definitive diagnosis. According to several eyewitness accounts cited by Washington Post, he received no medical care for nearly forty minutes after he collapsed in his cage. By the time, a doctor was brought in, Morsi most likely was already dead. The former president of Egypt was hurriedly and unceremoniously buried in a Cairo cemetery, not his ancestral graveyard, and only his immediate family was allowed to be present.

The poor health status of the former president was not unknown to the military authorities. He had long suffered from diabetes, liver and kidney diseases and had slipped into a diabetic coma several times during his incarceration. Only last year, a visiting delegation of British lawyers and parliamentarians had reported that “he had received inadequate care. His detention conditions could meet the threshold of torture.” The contrast between the treatment of former president Hosni Mubarak and Morsi is striking. Mubarak, an air force commander, was forced to resign and was tried on corruption charges; but spent significant periods of his imprisonment in a hospital where he was well taken care of. Now 91, he was subsequently cleared of all charges and freed.

The suspicious circumstance of Morsi’s death and the disgraceful treatment he received have evoked world-wide outrage. The United Nations Human Rights activists, journalists and many of the ousted president’s supporters have called for an impartial enquiry into his death. However, there is scant hope that the el-Sisi government will cooperate. It has much support in the European countries. The Guardian newspaper in an editorial expressed its dismay; “France and others wrongly see Mrel-Sisi as a force for stability in the region, and a handy obstacle to the flow of migrants, as well as a customer for arms sales.”

Among Muslim countries, the most vocal condemnation of Morsi’s poor treatment at the hands of the el-Sisi government came from the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who demanded that the Egyptian Government should be tried in international courts for the death of the former president, whom he characterized as “Shaheed.” He also appealed to the Organization of Islamic Countries to take action. Nothing, however, is likely to happen. Special prayers for the deceased were offered in mosques in Turkey, Qatar and Malaysia.

The death of President Morsi symbolized the final demise of the Arab Spring that had aroused a flicker of hope worldwide that a new era of freedom, democracy and enlightenment was about to be ushered in the Arab world. It started in late 2010as a series of protest demonstrations against oppressive regimes and long entrenched dictators. The movement was sparked in December 2011 in Tunis by an ordinary street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, 26, who set himself on fire to express his desperation and protest mistreatment by government agents. His sacrifice spawned a powerful revolution that ultimately drove the President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali out of power.

Within a short period, the uprising against oppressive regimes spread to Libya, Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain with varying levels of success. The case of Egypt is especially noteworthy. President Hosni Mubarak had been the unchallenged ruler of the country since1981, when he succeeded the assassinated president, Anwar Sadat. In 2011,huge demonstrations in Cairo forced a reluctant and aging Mubarak to step down. In a free and fair election, Mohamed Morsi was elected president of the republic and installed in 2012in front of thousands of cheering Egyptians.A dramatic moment came when the new president opened his jacket and showed that unlike his predecessors, he was wearing no bulletproof jacket. He was one of them.

In his brief one-year tenure, President Morsi was not entirely successful, and his popularity quickly plummeted. Big crowds came out to demonstrate against his rule. Morsi had no previous experience of administration and was not given enough time to learn from his mistakes.

There are some uncanny similarities between what happened in Egypt to political developments in Pakistan that occurred exactly four decades ago. The military commander, General ZiaulHaq, overthrew the elected Government of Pakistan, imprisoned and then executed the prime minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, after a trial widely perceived as unfair. However, there is a major difference between Egyptians and Pakistani people. After suffering despotic rulers for a decade or so Pakistan’s got tired and revolted against dictators and eventually drove them out. In Egypt, there is a long tradition of tolerance of autocratic rule. This tradition was only briefly breached with the election of President Mohamed Morsi who lasted only a year.

By: Dr. Syed Amir, a Health Scientist Administrator at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland and an Assistant Professor at the Harvard Medical School. The article was first published in Daily Times on 27 June 2019.