In circumstances that looked like a replay of instant justice that saw the unceremonious exit from power and prosecution of Egypt’s ex-dictator, Hosni Mubarak, for violence and corruption, the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment on April 21 after state prosecutors found him guilty of supporting deadly violence outside his presidential residence in 2012, one year after he was elected into office. Mubarak had ruled for 32 years and was ousted from power after millions of protesters, demanding justice and openness on the verge of the now historic Arab Spring, massed at the square in Cairo for days on end. Ex-President Mohammed Morsi, whose Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood benefitted from the new lease of life through a popular, free and fair election that gave his party majority in parliament, did not learn from history or more appropriately refused to rise to the occasion of the new deal.
As Egypt’s first democratically elected President, Morsi failed to realize that he had a historic duty to break the country from its dark past and lead the brutalized but triumphant people to a just and equitable society as enshrined in the Constitution. He completely forgot that he was no longer one of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood but a President of all Egypt, freely given the mandate by the electorate, though with a slim margin, to rebuild with a sense of purpose and due process the country that had been under the jackboots of military rule for over three decades. Rather than be a leader, Morsi chose to be a politician. And like most politicians who always have their eyes focused on the next election, he decided to grab as much power as he could to feather his and his Brotherhood’s nest. In the event, he lost the golden chance to be a statesman and thus bestir himself to accountability and transparency. At a time during his turbulent reign, he was even addressed as Islamist President, a sad commentary on his pre-election promise to lead a government “for all Egyptians”.
The protesters who returned to the street in the first quarter of 2013 were expressing frustration over Morsi’s divisive and authoritarian rule. Moreover, the Muslim Brotherhood monopolised power during his brief rule; the Islamists-dominated constituent assembly started drafting a new Constitution to legalise their control of power to the detriment of the liberals, secularists and Coptic Church, one of the oldest Christian Churches in the world. Hardly had the Constitution been subjected to a referendum than Morsi issued a decree granting him sweeping powers.
Alarmed at the unconstitutional turn of events, opponents massed into the street to protest what they could foresee as a return to dictatorship of the worst kind – sectarian dictatorship. A clash between his supporters and his opponents led to the death of 50 persons. By this time, the opponents were able to get together a grassroots’ protest movement called Tamarod, leading to another round of protests and calls for the resignation of President Morsi.
In a belated attempt to regain control of the deteriorating situation, Morsi deployed the military to quell the protests. To their surprise, the military found that the protest was widespread and could lead to a real breakdown of law and order, and so warned Morsi to reverse himself on some of his anti-democratic moves.
Morsi made some concessions during his election anniversary speech in June 2013, admitting to some wrongs while pleading to be given time to correct his mistakes. It later turned out that he was buying time to dig in his heels.
Inevitably, the military led by current President Al- Sisi, which had warned him to amend his ways or face being toppled from power, had to intervene to stop the unavoidable slip into chaos and lawlessness, few months after the wounds of the popular uprising that paved the way for his election were yet to heal.
According the judges, Morsi was found guilty of involvement in the arrest and torture of protesters during his reign; colluding with foreign militants to free prisoners during the 2011 uprising; leaking state secrets, fraud and insulting the judiciary. Still hanging on his neck is accusation of espionage, an offence that could carry the death sentence. He was however acquitted of murder charges over the death of a journalist and two protesters during clashes outside the Presidential residence in 2012. This could have earned him a death sentence as well.
His supporters have criticized the judicial process that convicted Morsi and his henchmen as flawed and have vowed to appeal. That is how it should be. Let the law take its course.
There is no denying the fact that the trial has left good lessons for leadership in many parts of the continent. Congratulations are due to the Egyptian authorities for following the legal process. The Egyptian authorities have displayed a high degree of patriotism and sense of sovereignty by allowing its judiciary to try the case rather than run to the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The message has been judiciously made that a leader who supports killings by his supporters as Morsi did should be visited with the full wrath of the law. There is the clear and unambiguous message that democracy is a journey and not a destination, not an end but the means to an end, which is social, economic and political justice and equity