Egypt’s former president Mohamed Morsi only held power for a year before his overthrow in a coup masterminded by the country’s current leader, Abdel Fattah el Sisi, but during that time he earned a special place in the hearts of many Syrian revolutionaries.
When he took power in the summer of 2012, the civil war in Syria was escalating as the Assad regime dedicated the full might of its armed forces to crushing the revolutionaries.
The conflict forced millions of Syrians out of the country, and at the time Egypt under Morsi was a welcoming place for them.
Syrians were allowed to enter Egypt with just their passports and were given access to the country’s education services, as well as health and other services.
“He [Morsi] spread the principles of love and hospitality for Syrians among the Egyptian community while he was president,” said Alaa Browe, a 36-year-old teacher from Idlib.
That practical help also came with support for the Syrian revolution on a diplomatic level.
Browe recalled how under Morsi, Egypt cut diplomatic relations with the Assad regime, as well as publicly rebuking it over the atrocities being committed in the country.
After Morsi was deposed the impact on Syrians was immediate. Syrians were turned away from the country by the plane load, others were detained arbitrarily, and hundreds have been deported.
“When the military deposed him, it was a dark day, and what followed was even worse,” Browe said, referring to the autocratic regime of Egypt’s Sisi.
But beyond the help to Syrians, Morsi’s election served as a model for the kinds of freedoms Syrians wanted in their own country.
Unlike the margins Arab autocrats like Sisi and Assad are used to winning in their elections, which usually exceed 90 percent, Morsi’s victory was just 52 percent, a narrow victory over his rival, Ahmed Shafik.
Muna Haseb, a 29-year-old pharmacist from Idlib, told TRT World that the election proved Arab democracy was possible.
“It was like a divine boost of energy,” she said. “For me and the vast number of Syrians it taught us that democratic change was possible, free elections could happen, Egypt became a role model for the entire Arab world.”
Morsi made no secret of his personal affection for the Syrian people and support for their revolution. He often spoke with the Syrian revolutionary flag hanging right beside the Egyptian one, and used his platform at the Arab League summit to warn regime leader Bashar al Assad that his days as Syrian dictator were coming to an end.
It was, however, Assad who clung on to power with support from Iran and Russia, while Morsi was overthrown in a coup backed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and later the US.
The irony of what happened to Morsi is not lost on Syrians.
Mousa Sulayman, a 32-year-old shop owner from Maraat al Nouman, said he cried when he heard the news that Morsi, a “symbol of the revolution”, had died.
“It was devastating for me when the military ousted him,” he said. Explaining further that the coup was disappointing for him, as so many Egyptians backed the military in deposing Morsi.
“They couldn’t remove him or beat him democratically so they used the number one tool for tyrants - the army.”
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