With the death of the former president, friends and colleagues say Egypt has lost a visionary who wanted to change the country’s authoritarian political framework.
Egypt’s first and only democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, passed away during a court hearing on Monday, but many of his confidants still believe that his vision for Egypt will continue to have resonance among large parts of the country.
“He told me personally one evening that we [Egyptians] can do it. We can move and make change. It’s not a big issue,” said Hamza Zawba, one of Morsi’s friends and a former spokesman for the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
During the year he spent in office Morsi moved to remove elements loyal to the former military-dominated regimes, and mitigate the impact of the judiciary, which was still loyal to former president Hosni Mubarak.
An example of the latter was the 2012 Constitutional Declaration and the Revolution Protection Law, through which Morsi hoped to protect political institutions from the interference of the Constitutional Court, which was dominated by elements from the old regime.
He also tried to reign in the power of the military by firing old guards, such as General Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and General Sami Anan, from their government positions.
Beyond his domestic political agenda, Morsi, an ally of both Turkey and Qatar, also imagined a more open and representative regional bloc to challenge the old autocratic tendencies in the region.
Morsi strongly supported the Syrian uprising against the Assad regime, cutting Egypt’s diplomatic ties with Damascus and publicly condemning the regime’s brutality against its own people.
He also allowed Syrians to enter Egypt, providing them with educational and health services, which have been denied to them since Sisi came to power.
While Morsi tried to bring in reforms, Egypt’s generals, who have dictated the country’s direction since the 1950s, had other plans. In July 2013, Abdel Fattah el Sisi, the country’s military chief and Morsi’s defence minister, carried out a military coup to depose the Egyptian president.
“If the will of people brings socialists to power, they will be against it. If the will of people brings Marxists to power, they will be against it. If the will of people brings Islamists to power, they will be against it. If the will of people brings secularists to power, they will be against it,” Zawba said, adding that he thinks Egypt’s military does not like anything resembling civilian politics.
The current Sisi government is dominated by military officials and pro-military civilians alike, who like in other autocratic Arab states, do not want to share power with civilians, according to Zawba.
“They look at Morsi as a president who was chosen by the will of people, and as a president who comes directly from the Muslim Brotherhood,” Zawba said.
Sisi managed to succeed with diplomatic and financial support from outside powers, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
“The military generals and their supporters in Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv [stopped Morsi] early because they knew that if President Morsi continued to stay in power, he would have made great changes in the region,” Zawba told TRT World.
“In my opinion, Sisi was recruited by other [intelligence] agencies outside the country [to prepare the ground for the military coup],” Zawba claimed. Among others, the UAE and Saudi were his main backers, giving him full support to his coup against Morsi.
According to American diplomatic sources, both Muhammed Bin Zayed (MBZ), Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, which is the dominant power in the UAE, and Bandar Bin Sultan, the former director of Saudi intelligence, conspired against Morsi from the very beginning of his term.
Before the coup, both MBZ and Bandar promised Sisi substantial financial support worth $20 billion if he ousted Morsi, according to diplomatic sources.
“When Morsi got elected, the Saudis and the Emiratis went into overdrive,” a former senior American diplomat told The New Yorker in 2018.
Following Morsi’s overthrow from power, the regional power balance in the Middle East has shifted to autocrats like Bashar al Assad in Syria. In Libya and Syria, civil wars have gotten worse, leading to massive casualties and humanitarian disasters accompanied by a huge refugee crisis.
Egypt’s pro-Israel policies, in alignment with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, have helped Tel Aviv strengthen its pressure on Palestinian populations in the occupied territories.
But paradoxically, it was Morsi who passed away in a court accused of having foreign ties while Sisi’s regime has been benefitting from external ties.
“They [generals] are chickens,” Zawba said. “My analysis is Sisi was a very weak person…who was the servant of Tantawi. He has no dreams or ambitions like Morsi had for Egypt and the region.”
Since the military coup, Egypt has entered into a period of political repression and economic recession, making ordinary people’s lives difficult.
The Sisi regime has also banned opposition groups and committed serious violations amounting to crimes against humanity, according to human rights groups.