Former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi — the country’s first democratically elected leader, who served just one year before being deposed in a 2013 military coup — collapsed and died in a Cairo courtroom on Monday, according to local media reports.
Morsi was elected in 2012 after the Arab Spring uprisings ousted longtime President Hosni Mubarak. But Morsi’s tenure was short-lived; in 2013, following massive demonstrations across the country calling for him to step down, the Egyptian military led by current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi launched a coup to oust Morsi from power and had him arrested.
Morsi has since faced trial on a number of charges, including espionage, the charges he was addressing in the courtroom on Monday. A source told the AFP that Morsi, 67, was addressing the judge when he “became very animated and fainted.”
Morsi’s death is likely to raise even more questions about his treatment in prison. Morsi, who had health problems including diabetes and kidney disease, was held in solitary confinement for much of his incarceration. A 2018 report into Morsi’s detention by a panel of British members of Parliament found that Egypt had failed to meet the international minimum standards for prisoners known as the “Mandela Rules,” and warned that those conditions could lead to Morsi’s “premature death.”
Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director for the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch, tweeted that Morsi’s death was “terrible but ENTIRELY predictable” given the Egyptian government’s “failure to allow him adequate medical care, much less family visits.”
Human Rights Watch wrote in 2017 that Egyptian authorities had prevented Morsi from receiving visits from his family and his lawyers, which derailed his ability not just to receive adequate care but also to mount a serious legal defense.
Morsi’s trial — one of several over the years — played out against the backdrop of an increasingly repressive dictatorship under Sisi, the current president.
Since seizing control of the country in the military coup that ousted Morsi, Sisi has consolidated his power, cracking down on political opponents — including the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist political organization Morsi belonged to, which Sisi has outlawed and designated a terrorist group.
Morsi may be the most high-profile political prisoner, but human rights groups have said there’s widespread abuse and torture within Egypt’s prisons.
In 2019, Sisi has also pushed through changes to the constitution that could keep him in power until 2030 and gave him more control over the judiciary. He’s done all this while being publicly embraced by President Donald Trump.
On a White House visit in April — Sisi’s second during Trump’s tenure — Trump responded to questions about Sisi’s power grab by saying, “I think he’s doing a great job, I don’t know about the effort, I can just tell you he’s doing a great job.”