Erdogan pays tribute to ‘martyr’- Sheikh Tamim expresses ‘deep sorrow’

CAIRO: Egypt’s first democratically elected civilian president Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist who was ousted after one year of divisive rule, died after falling ill during a court hearing yesterday, the attorney general said. He was 67. Morsi had been “animated” during a hearing in the retrial of an espionage case where he was accused of collaborating with adverse foreign powers and militant groups, judicial and security sources said.
“The court granted him his request to speak for five minutes… He fell to the ground in the cage… and was transported immediately to the hospital. A medical report found… no pulse or breathing,” the office of the attorney general said in a statement. “He arrived at the hospital dead at 4.50 pm exactly and there were no new, visible injuries found on the body.”

One of Morsi’s defense lawyers described the moment he received news of his death. “We heard the banging on the glass cage from the rest of the other inmates and them screaming loudly that Morsi had died,” the lawyer, Osama El Helw, told AFP. “I saw him from afar wheeled out on the stretcher from the courts complex” from Tora, in southern Cairo, said another one of his lawyers, Abdel-Menem Abdel-Maqsood. “They prevented us from leaving the court for about 15 minutes,” he added, without being able to say which hospital the former president had been transported to. He said Morsi’s health had been poor in jail. “We had put in several requests for treatment, some were accepted and others were not,” Abdel-Maqsood told Reuters.

A judicial source said the former Islamist president had fainted during a break in the court session. The court officials “had just finished the session for the espionage case and they informed the judge that he had fainted and needed to be transported to a hospital where he later died,” he told AFP. Security sources said the interior ministry had declared a state of alert yesterday, notably in Morsi’s home province of Sharqiya in the Nile Delta, where the body was expected to be taken for burial.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a strong ally of the Islamist president during his brief tenure as Egypt’s leader, paid tribute to Morsi and called him a “martyr”. “May Allah rest our brother Morsi, our martyr’s soul, in peace,” said Erdogan, who had forged close ties with Morsi. Relations between Turkey and Egypt have been virtually non-existent since the Egyptian military, then led by Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, in 2013 ousted Islamist president Morsi. Sisi has since become president. Erdogan has strongly denounced Morsi’s ouster and called for the release of Muslim Brotherhood prisoners in Egypt.

Speaking in Istanbul, Erdogan again took aim at Sisi, calling him a “tyrant” who took power in a “coup” and who has trampled on democracy. “The West has remained silent,” Erdogan said. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said: “The coup moved him (Morsi) away from the power but his memory will not be erased.” Qatari Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, another strong backer of Morsi, took to Twitter to say “we received with deep sorrow the news of the sudden death of former President Dr Mohamed Morsi”. “I extend to his family and to the Egyptian people brotherly condolences,” he wrote.

Morsi spent just one turbulent year in office after the 2011 uprising. He was toppled in a military overthrow after millions took to the streets demanding his resignation. The Islamist leader has been in prison since his ouster on trial for several cases including for spying for Iran, Qatar and militant groups such as Hamas in the Gaza Strip. He was also accused of plotting terror acts. He was sentenced to death in May 2015 for his role in jailbreaks during the uprising that ousted his predecessor, longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Since his overthrow on July 3, 2013, his former defense minister and now president Sisi has waged an ongoing crackdown targeting his supporters from the Muslim Brotherhood with thousands jailed and hundreds facing death sentences. Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch Middle East director, tweeted “This is terrible but ENTIRELY predictable, given government failure to allow him adequate medical care”.

Other Brotherhood leaders have also died in custody. The years following Morsi’s overthrow have seen a surge in bombings and shootings targeting security forces, particularly in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula, a stronghold of the Islamic State group. Morsi’s turbulent rule was marked by deep divisions in Egyptian society, a crippling economic crisis and often-deadly opposition protests.
Morsi was elected to power in 2012 in Egypt’s first free presidential election, having been thrown into the race at the last moment by the disqualification on a technicality of millionaire businessman Khairat Al-Shater, by far the Brotherhood’s preferred choice. His victory marked a radical break with the military men who had provided every Egyptian leader since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1952. Morsi promised a moderate Islamist agenda to steer Egypt into a new democratic era where autocracy would be replaced by transparent government that respected human rights and revived the fortunes of a powerful Arab state long in decline.

But the euphoria that greeted the end of an era of presidents who ruled like pharaohs did not last long. The stocky, bespectacled man, born in 1951 in the dying days of the monarchy, told Egyptians he would deliver an “Egyptian renaissance with an Islamic foundation”. Instead, he alienated millions who accused him of usurping unlimited powers, imposing the Brotherhood’s conservative brand of Islam and mismanaging the economy, all of which he denied. – Agencies