The death of ousted president Mohamed Morsi on 17 June from a heart attack during his on-going trial for espionage was met with a collective shrug in Egypt.
Morsi died in the same month he and the Muslim Brotherhood faced mass protests that led to his removal from office. In June, six years ago, most of Egypt’s opposition figures — including former chief of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed ElBaradei — came out against Morsi.
In an interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm in mid-June 2013, ElBaradei pleaded with Morsi to leave office peacefully.
“Morsi lost the confidence of most Egyptians, and I urge him to do like Hosni Mubarak and leave office peacefully,” said ElBaradei. “If Morsi refuses to leave, I hope the army will intervene to support the will of the people and force him from power. It is the duty of the army to support the people’s aspirations.”
Responding to the calls of opposition figures, and of the Tamarod campaign which collected 30 million signatures in favour of ousting Morsi, millions took to the streets on 30 June 2013 — the sixth anniversary of which will be marked on Sunday — demanding Egypt be rid not just of Morsi but the Muslim Brotherhood.
Anti-Brotherhood protests continued for four days, with demonstrators threatening to storm the presidential palace and evict Morsi by force.
On 3 July 2013, representatives from opposition forces, including ElBaradei, delegates from religious institutions, the Salafist Nour Party, civil society organisations, and army’s then chief, minister of defence Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, met to announce the removal of Morsi and the appointment of head of the Supreme Constitutional Court Adli Mansour as interim president. Morsi, like Mubarak in 2011, was placed under house arrest.
Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, forever obstinate and stubborn, refused to abandon power peacefully. They organised armed sit-ins in major squares in Cairo and Giza and threatened to use the terrorist Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis group in Sinai to spread violence across Egypt.
Morsi was born in Al-Idwah, a village in the Nile delta government of Al-Sharqiya, on 20 August 1951. He graduated from Cairo University’s Faculty of Engineering (Department of Metallurgy) in 1975, after which he left for the United States to study material science at the University of Southern California.
There is no reliable data on when he joined the Muslim Brotherhood. Tharwat Al-Kherbawi, a lawyer and historian who split from the Brotherhood over its dictatorial agenda, claimed in his book The Secret of the Temple, that Morsi joined the group while a student at Cairo University in the early 1970s.
“At that time, late president Anwar Al-Sadat decided to release most of the Brotherhood’s officials and activists detained under president Gamal Abdel-Nasser since 1965. They moved quickly to spread in universities and mosques and recruit students,” wrote Al-Kherbawi.
“Morsi was a voracious reader of Sayed Qotb, the leading Brotherhood ideologue who resurrected the ideology of Takfir and Hakimiya. The fact that Morsi was a hard-line Qotbist helped him rise quickly in the group, especially after the Qotbist wing took control of the Brotherhood in rigged internal elections in 2009.”
In 1979 the 28-year-old Mohamed Morsi married Naglaa Mahmoud, a 17-year-old student. According to the Brotherhood-affiliated website Sebq, Mahmoud was a relative of Morsi.
In an interview with Turkey’s Anatolia Agency in August 2014, Mahmoud said she met Hillary Clinton while she was living in the US with her husband.
“We have a long friendship and it increased when my husband became the legitimate president of the country,” said Mahmoud. “The Muslim Sisterhood, the female off-shoot of the Brotherhood, had routine business dealings with the Clintons who always asked us for help on Middle East issues.”
According to the World Bulletin, Morsi’s wife is also a friend with Saleha Abedin, the mother of Huma Abedin, a Muslim Students’ Association board member at George Washington University who started working for Hillary Clinton as an advisor in 1996.
Until 2000, however, Morsi was little known. When parliamentary elections were held that year he was among 88 Muslim Brotherhood members who won seats. Subsequently the Brotherhood chose him as their parliamentary spokesman.
“Morsi was a polite parliamentarian and at the time appeared to represent the voice of reason among the group’s MPs,” said Al-Kherbawi. “Yet his speeches and statements, on close examination, reveal him as a committed Qotbist.”
Morsi lost his seat in 2005 when only 17 Brotherhood candidates were successful. The Brotherhood appointed him chief of its political bureau. When the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guidance Office elections were held in December and hardliners won against the reformist camp led by then deputy guide Mohamed Habib, he rose to greater prominence within the group.
When protests erupted against Hosni Mubarak on 25 January 2011 Morsi was critical of the demonstrators. Abdel-Gelil Al-Sharnoubi, a journalist who was in charge of the Brotherhood’s official website, reported Morsi saying “the group can never join these boys who have decided to gather in Tahrir Square”.
Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders were arrested on 28 January 2011, after security forces received intelligence that members of the group had met in Turkey with foreign agents, mainly from the CIA, where they were instructed to take part in what came to be known as “the Friday of Fury” on 29 January.
According to later court hearings, extremists from Hamas in Gaza and Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis in Sinai used the chaos of 29 January to infiltrate Egypt’s borders and release Muslim Brotherhood prisoners. Morsi, in an interview with the Qatari Al-Jazeera TV channel aired on the evening of 29 January, claimed that citizens living near the Wadi Al-Natroun prison — on Cairo Alexandria desert road —demolished the prison buildings and set Brotherhood figures free.
When Mubarak was ousted from office the Muslim Brotherhood became a major political force and Morsi its main negotiator. When the Freedom and Justice (FJ) party — the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood — was founded in June 2011, Morsi was named as its deputy head.
Morsi said at the time that the party would not field candidates in every constituency “because the Brotherhood believes in political diversity”. Morsi, together with the Brotherhood’s supreme guide Mohamed Badie, also stressed that “the group does not intend to field a candidate in any presidential elections”.
Despite the early reassurances, the FJ contested every seat, and ended with getting 235 seats. The party’s Islamist allies won 25 per cent of the remaining seats in the People’s Assembly. In the Shura Council elections, the FJ won 103 seats — 57.2 per cent of the total.
Morsi did not stand in 2011’s parliamentary or Shura elections and after Mohamed Saad Al-Katatni was made speaker of parliament in January 2012, Morsi was appointed head of the FJ. But there were no plans for Morsi to stand as a presidential candidate.
“Everything changed when John Kerry, the high-profile US senator who was at that time working as special representative for US president Barack Obama, visited Cairo in early December 2011,” says Al-Kherbawi.
Kerry was the first among US congressmen who urged Mubarak to resign. In an article in The New York Times of 31 January, 2011 — six days after the uprising erupted, Kerry asked Mubarak to resign.
“Kerry at that time — during the Obama and George W. Bush presidency, was one of several American officials arguing that the Muslim Brotherhood was a moderate group which America should support to achieve democracy and stability in the Middle East,” says Al-Kherbawi.
In Morsi and the Seat Abdel-Moez Ibrahim, a member of the judiciary supervising the 2012 elections, wrote that “Kerry visited Cairo in December 2011 as an Obama envoy and held a closed-door meeting with leading Brotherhood officials at the group’s headquarters in Cairo’s Moqattam district.”
“Kerry urged the Brotherhood to contest the presidential elections and promised the Obama administration would support them. Kerry’s only condition was that if the Brotherhood won the presidency it must respect Egypt’s foreign agreements, particularly the peace treaty with Israel,” Ibrahim wrote.
In March 2012 the Brotherhood announced that it would field a presidential candidate. Its first choice was Khairat Al-Shater, the Brotherhood’s bank-roller.
“Al-Shater was disqualified from running on a legal technicality. The group, now overwhelmed by ambition for power, decided to push Morsi as Al-Shater’s “spare tyre”, the Brotherhood’s accidental candidate. In the second round, in May 2012, Morsi was able to defeat former army general and prime minister Ahmed Shafik, winning 13.2 million votes to Shafik’s 12.3 million.
Some sources said the Brotherhood spent as much as LE600 million to help Morsi succeed. Former US president Barack Obama was the first foreign leader to congratulate Morsi,” Ibrahim said.
During his one-year rule Morsi moved quickly to implement the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda.
“Although he promised to be a president for all Egyptians, his promises proved false,” said Ibrahim.
Between July and November 2012 he issued a series of constitutional declarations that allowed him to legislate by decree without any judicial oversight or review.
At the same time, a constituent assembly dominated by the Brotherhood and Islamist forces drafted what came to be known as the Kandahar constitution which placed Egypt on the road to becoming a theocratic, jihadist state.
Having alienated judges, the intelligentsia, secular political forces and Copts, Morsi clashed with the army. In August 2012 he dismissed defence minister Hussein Tantawi and chief of staff Sami Anan.
He also refused to attend the funeral of 16 soldiers killed by Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis.
The confrontation between the Muslim Brotherhood and civilian forces escalated. In December 2012 Brotherhood militias moved to disperse protesters who had gathered before Al-Ittihadiya palace, killing three. Mohamed Hassanein Heikal warned in a TV interview at the time that Egypt was moving towards a civil war.
The Tamarod group was formed to gather signatures for a petition demanding Morsi’s removal.
Political forces demanded Morsi dismiss prime minister Hisham Qandil and prosecutor-general Talaat Ibrahim and form a new constituent assembly to write a new constitution.
At that time, minister of defence Al-Sisi called for a national dialogue. But Morsi, under orders from the Muslim Brotherhood leaders who were now Egypt’s de-facto rulers, refused.
Al-Ahram political analyst Hassan Abu Taleb believes that in the 12 months in which Morsi was in power “people saw what Muslim Brotherhood rule and a theocratic state look like”.
“Political Islam — as shown by the Morsi experience — was incompetent, polarising and stubborn. Morsi managed to alienate almost every sector of society outside the Brotherhood,” Abu Taleb said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 June, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: The road to 30 June