As soon as news broke of the sudden death of ousted president Mohamed Morsi during a court hearing on 17 June, Brotherhood officials and activists in Europe, Turkey and some Gulf countries, as well as human rights organisations opposed to the Egyptian government, lashed out at Cairo for causing his death.
The statements were many and diverse, but the common thread was that Morsi died as a result of the Egyptian authorities’ neglect of his medical condition during his years in jail. Some even demanded an international investigation into the causes of his death.
Morsi had already been found guilty in two of the cases against him and sentenced to life. The Brotherhood and its supporters now want to capitalise on the opportunity to internationalise the cause of his death.
Experts agree that the group’s latest actions conform to its long-standing habit of “manufacturing victimhood”. It is a habit that began following the assassination of the group’s founder Hassan Al-Banna in circumstances that still remain a mystery.
According to one narrative, the Brotherhood’s “Special Apparatus”, as its paramilitary wing was called, was involved in the assassination following a quarrel between Al-Banna and Abdel-Rahman Al-Sanadi, commander of the paramilitary wing, over the latter’s role in the assassination of judge Ahmed Al-Khazindar.
Mokhtar Nouh, a lawyer and former Muslim Brotherhood member, points out that there was nothing suspicious about Morsi’s death. He collapsed in full view of the courtroom after he had been on his feet addressing the court as a co-defendant in the case pertaining to espionage charges involving the Palestinian Hamas organisation.
The prosecutor-general’s office immediately took all the measures necessary to put paid to any doubts and issued a detailed report.
A member of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR), speaking on condition of anonymity, said that, contrary to rumours put about by the Brotherhood, Morsi had no problem accessing medical treatment and was in fact given special attention.
The EOHR member added that it was in no one’s interest to neglect Morsi’s health.
Nouh stresses the Brotherhood had consistently refused to appeal to the government or to President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi for an amnesty on grounds of ill health because the organisation refuses to recognise the post-30 June 2013 political order.
Lawyer Amr Abdel-Salam offered testimony to the medical attention accorded to Morsi. Citing General Ihab Abul-Kheir, the former assistant to the interior minister who oversaw Morsi’s medical treatment, Abdel-Salam said, “Morsi received comprehensive health and medical care during his detention at the hands of leading practitioners in all medical disciplines. Contrary to rumours, he was never deprived of medication. In fact, two officers were assigned to oversee his medical needs in order to preserve his health.”
The Brotherhood’s victimhood discourse builds on four components. One is the politicised statements of condolences by foreign officials, especially the heads-of-state of countries hostile to Egypt such as Qatar and Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quick to charge his rhetoric with terms as the “martyr Morsi” and the “martyred president”.
The second involves commentaries by human rights organisations, most echoing the Brotherhood’s narrative that Morsi died as a result of medical neglect for which the Egyptian government is responsible. One of the organisations involved is the Committee for Justice, a Geneva-based operation run by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) tow the same line and have echoed calls for an international investigation into the causes of Morsi’s death and the conditions prevalent in Egyptian prisons.
Egypt’s State Information Service (SIS) responded to tweets by Sarah Whitson, executive director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division, by saying her feeble claims confirm HRW’s intent to continue to circulate falsehoods.
“It is amazing that Whitson posted her first tweet less than half an hour after the announcement of Morsi’s death. In that tweet she concluded that he had died as a result of medical negligence without offering a shred of evidence to back her claim,” said SIS.
It added that the only authoritative information was to be found in the report released by the Egyptian prosecutor-general’s office which contained initial findings into the cause of death and added that it would supply further details after an autopsy had been conducted.
The report, which refuted Whitson’s claims, confirms “that her conclusions are nothing less than a tendentious attempt to precede events for political motives and that HRW has stooped to yet another level of baseness by exploiting the death of an Egyptian citizen to espouse political positions and criminal allegations without proof. Such behaviour has nothing to do with rights advocacy,” insisted SIS.
The third component of the victimhood discourse is the propaganda campaign launched through social media platforms using hashtags such as “martyred president”.
The fourth is mobilisation through funeral rites. Funerals have long served as chapter headings in the Brotherhood’s narrative of victimhood. In this case, the group sees funeral and commemorative activities for Morsi as a means to re-establish its presence in the street and demonstrate that the organisation is still alive in Egypt.
Some analysts predict that the “Special Apparatus”, currently headed by Mahmoud Ezzat, will plot to avenge Morsi. They say such a scenario is consistent with Ezzat’s ideas expressed, for example, in his first communiqué to followers as acting supreme guide and in his book The Jurisprudence of Popular Resistance to the Coup.
The book, circulated among the group’s rank and file, condemns the Egyptian government, its security establishment and, indeed, Egyptian society, as heretic, and calls for armed resistance.
It has served as the group’s ideological rationale for acts such as the assassination attempt against the Egyptian prosecutor-general Hisham Barakat and the murder of police and army officers.
Ezzat’s book, which he signed using the moniker Papa Mahmoud, has become an ideological frame of reference for Brotherhood militant activity today, much as works by Sayed Qotb, such as Signposts on the Road, set the compass for Islamist violence in the 1960s.
Investigations have also revealed that the Brotherhood has circulated among its members in prison documents that furnish a theological rationale for condemning the Egyptian government as heretic.
One of these is a study by Abdel-Rahman Al-Barr, known as the Brotherhood mufti, which cites Sheikh Mohamed Al-Ghazali’s commentary on the assassination of the Egyptian intellectual Farag Foda by Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya.
In Al-Ghazali’s opinion it was not Foda’s execution that was wrong but the fact that it was carried out by an agency other than the ruler (ie, the government). Al-Barr argued that since the ruler was unlawful and would not issue a judgement against himself, it was legitimate to fight him.
Maher Farghali, a specialist in Islamist groups, argues that Morsi’s death serves the interests of the hardliners in the group who will try to use it to promote antagonism towards the Egyptian government and as a means to mend rifts in the organisation in favour of the hardliners and their appeal for vengeance.
Farghali adds that the Brotherhood, when acting out its victimhood discourse, generally turns to violence rather than taking a step back for introspection.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 June, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Playing victim