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Morsi … and death by medieval means

  • Published at 06:04 pm June 19th, 2019
He deserved better REUTERS

His imprisonment was a scandal and a failure of the global community

Mohamed Morsi was pushed to his death in a medieval manner by a regime that does not respect people. To be sure, as Egypt’s first elected president, he committed mistakes. Unbeknownst to him, though, the military was always waiting in the shadows to trip him up. 

And it did, barely a year after he was elected to office. For the last six years, condemned to solitary imprisonment even as his trial went on before judges all too willing to kowtow before the regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who incidentally served as Morsi’s minister of defense and army chief, Morsi had absolutely no contact with the outside world. 

Not possessed of good health, he was denied the medical services he ought to have had as a former and legitimately elected president.

His appearances in court, in the manner of a wild animal confined within a soundproof cage, did not do Egypt any good.

Egyptians of conscience, and they are not among the current ruling cabal, will regret the sordid manner of Morsi’s dying.

And then will come a time when he will be forgotten. He has been interred in a grave in a small cemetery in order for people not to make a martyr of him.

But Morsi’s is not the first instance of a political leader who has been treated with disdain. 

Fifty years ago, Liu Shaoqi, one of the powerful men responsible for bringing communism to China and who served as president of his country, died in miserable circumstances in prison.

Once a comrade of Mao Zedong, he eventually became a victim of the excesses wrought by Mao’s chaotic Cultural Revolution. 

No one knew, at that point in 1969, that he had been locked up in prison and had died. What was known for certain was that he had been purged.

No memorials have been erected in honour of Liu Shaoqi. History books taught to Chinese children do not mention him at all.

The end of both Morsi and Liu was, let it be said again, in stark medievalism even as the world has ostensibly been rushing through modernity.

Death in prison is never a heroic experience for the ones who die, though their followers may well be prepared to confer on them the honour of martyrdom. 

The story of Pakistan’s Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is a case in point. Not much accustomed to prison life -- he had earlier been in jail for a few months in the final phases of Ayub Khan’s regime -- he was miserable, lost weight but until the very end kept alive the hope that international pressure would compel the military regime then in power to free him and pack him off to exile. 

In his final hours of life, he slept on the grimy floor of his condemned cell, did not shave, and according to some jail officials, wept.

It was death that had been ordained by his nemesis Zia-ul-Haq, who himself was to succumb to poetic justice nine years later.

Often in our times, foul conspiracy has led to history makers being put away and eventually put out of life. Here in Bangladesh, the evil men who carted off the four leaders of the Mujibnagar government -- Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmad, M Mansoor Ali, and AHM Quamruzzaman -- to prison following the national tragedy of August 15, 1975 took every measure to ensure that they did not emerge into sunlight again.

They were shot and bayoneted in barbaric manner. 

They had never been charged with any crime; no trials were in the pipeline for them.

The mere fear in their tormentors was that if and when they were freed through circumstances changing by the minute, they would restore legitimate government for the country.

Against all civilized norms of behaviour, the assassin-soldiers forced their way into the jail and coolly walked away after accomplishing their macabre job.

There have been the rather fortunate ones who were able to escape the probability of death in prison. Algeria’s first president Ahmed Ben Bella, deposed by his defense minister Houari Boumédiène in 1965, would spend the next nearly 15 years in confinement.

It was not until Boumédiène died of illness that Ben Bella was freed. 

He tried to make a comeback to politics, but his efforts did not quite succeed.

He died a grand old man. Worse was the fate of Subandrio, the very visible and articulate foreign minister in the Indonesian government of President Ahmed Sukarno until the cataclysmic events of September 1965.

Arrested by the Suharto regime, Subandrio was tried by the army and sentenced to death. 

At one point, the sentence of death was commuted to life imprisonment. After spending nearly 30 years as a prisoner of the murderous and kleptocratic Suharto regime, Subandrio was freed in 1995. He never spoke of his experience in jail, never gave interviews, never left any memoirs behind, and died some years later.

The death of political leaders put away in prison on generally trumped-up charges or no charges at all is a shame for those who engage in the misdeed of removing them from the scene.

Morsi was, warts and all, an elected leader removed from office in extra-constitutional manner.

His imprisonment was a scandal, made offensive by the failure of the global community to demand an open and transparent trial for him and for decent conditions to be applied to his confinement. 

But, of course, men driven by rank cruelty have little time to comprehend the necessity of civilized deportment. A sad reality, across the generations, across history. 

Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist and biographer.

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