The late Mohamed Morsi's rise to power represented an end to Egypt's kleptocratic free-for-all.
It’s been one year since Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, died while awaiting his unlawful and absurd show trial.
I say ‘die’, but an independent panel of UN experts concluded that Morsi’s death was most likely ‘a state-sanctioned arbitrary killing’.
Morsi’s legacy as a democrat is done no favours by the fact that his tyrannical usurper Abdel Fattah el Sisi is a key ally and trading partner of all the so-called ‘great powers’.
Sisi, like so many of today’s manifold tyrants or demi-tyrants, is justified by his allies as, in the incredulously squalid words of Angela Merkel, ‘a role model of stability’.
Thus, to most of the world, and to many within Egypt, the life and death of Mohamed Morsi has been swiftly forgotten. None of this is accidental.
Within Egypt, it’s not just the blackening of his legacy by absurd trumped up charges of him being a traitor and an agent of dark "Islamist foreign forces", but rather a complete erasure of both his brief legacy and the alternative that he represented – namely democracy.
As one Egyptian activist put it to me, ‘if they can forget Rabaa, they can forget Morsi’.
One suspects that Morsi was never supposed to stand trial. In Egypt, even show trials can be dangerous to a regime that fears its own shadow, never mind potential daily news coverage of the trial of a quiet, bespectacled engineer who served as its antithesis.
And that is what Mohamed Morsi was, but this is not a hagiography – Morsi and the movement he represented had many flaws, shortcomings and imperfections, but it was democratic and envisioned Egypt free from the decades-old ruling kleptocracy comprised of the military caste and loyal business elites.
Egypt’s deep deficiencies are not ‘mismanagement’ as some would have it, but rather mismanagement-by-design – it’s an organised system of looting the state and using increasingly totalitarian methods to deal with any adverse reactions among the populace.
Though those who overthrew Morsi came into power promising security and stability, they have achieved none of these things on any level. During his time in power, and due in no small part to economic sabotage from opponents of democracy, Morsi was accused of letting Egypt slip into an economic free-for-all.
Yet, economically speaking, life has never been so precarious for Egyptians under Sisi. Even before the earthquake of Covid-19, 60 percent of Egyptians were living in third world poverty or were vulnerable to slipping into it, with the regime cutting much-needed subsidies, while living costs have rocketed.
The ramifications of Covid-19, where the regime has only looked to preserve its own economic interests, could see millions of Egyptians lose their income and potentially their lives. Millions already face a situation where they must choose between feeding their families or risking exposure to the virus.
This is not despite, but due to a $12 billion IMF loan package, which has seen Sisi unleash austerity on Egypt’s already skeletal state, something that Morsi refused to do, putting him at loggerheads with the IMF.
But while the military furnishes itself with billions in dollars of weapons and Sisi plans extravagantly obscene projects with the UAE and Saudi, schools, hospitals and social services are left to rot.
In the Sinai, Daesh have capitalised on the socioeconomic grievances of Bedouin tribes who have been marginalised for decades, but it was Sisi who drove many of the local tribes into their arms.
It’s here that one finds one of the final nails in Morsi’s coffin as president. Though it hardly seemed controversial to many Egyptians, Morsi introduced a new law, partly to address the deep-seeded unrest in the Sinai, that would prioritise land ownership for local Egyptians at the expense of Mubarak-era business elites and foreign corporations.
This moderate reform was portrayed by the pro-coup forces as Morsi attempting to bring down Egypt’s tourism sector, as opposed to allowing normal Egyptians to prosper from it.
It goes without saying, far from the insane plots the pro-coup forces concocted about Morsi selling the Giza Necropolis to Qatar, Egypt has never been so beholden to foreign interests under Sisi.
In a state run by parasites, it stands to reason that the interests of parasite states would flourish. Enter the great void of humanity that is the UAE, an avowed enemy of democracy in the region in general and the type of ‘Islamic democracy’ represented by the Muslim Brotherhood in particular.
The UAE has invested billions in Sisi’s counter-revolution, to the extent that it boasts about ruling Egypt. In return, and in combination with Sisi’s absurd Neo-Nasserist delusions, Egypt has intervened on the part of the would-be tyrant Khalifa Haftar in Libya’s civil war, effectively waging war against the legitimate UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), which contains affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood.
As with all things Sisi touches, the war against democracy in Libya has left him humiliated and begging for negotiations, after Turkey decisively intervened to protect the GNA from Sisi, the UAE, Russia and the counter-revolutionaries they sponsor.
In sharp contrast to this, and in yet another nail in his coffin, Morsi sought a foreign policy that supported revolution in MENA, including unwavering solidarity with the Syrian revolution.
It’s important to stress that Morsi was a moderate reformist who oversaw a transitional government and certainly didn’t seek to rock the geopolitical boat too much.
He was cautious and gradualist in his approach to reforming the Egyptian state. But whether at the hands of Morsi or another democratically elected leader, Egypt’s military-led kleptocrats knew that democracy spelled the end for them.
Contrary to his nationalist rhetoric, Sisi doesn’t want a ‘strong Egypt’, but rather a strong kleptocracy at the expense of true Egyptian prosperity with a terrorised and compliant population.
Egypt’s kleptocrats and their regional allies saw in Morsi, and the democracy he represented, traces of their future and previously unthinkable demise. And that’s why Mohamed Morsi died in an Egyptian dungeon.
And that’s why the regime have turned him into Egypt’s forgotten man. We can only hope that one day most Egyptians remember what he represented.
Sam Hamad is a Scottish-Egyptian writer based in Edinburgh.
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