Under Sisi’s Authoritarianism, Egypt Even Restricted Reporting on Morsi’s Death
Editor’s Note: Every Friday, Andrew Green curates the top news and analysis from and about the African continent.
The death of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, in a Cairo courtroom Monday has put another spotlight on the repressive regime that replaced him in a 2013 military coup. Under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Egyptian government has imprisoned thousands of dissidents and members of Morsi’s now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, while also cracking down on freedom of expression and tightening its control over the media. True to form, Sisi’s government even restricted how journalists could report on Morsi’s death this week.
The authoritarian atmosphere in Egypt today stands in marked contrast to seven years ago, when Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood swept into power after winning elections at the height of the Arab Spring, following the 2011 overthrow of longtime Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak.
But less than a year after he took office, Morsi was deposed by the military amid another wave of mass protests sparked by fears that he was attempting to consolidate his hold on power and entrench Islamist rule. He was held in jail for six years, as the Muslim Brotherhood was outlawed and then declared a terrorist group. During his frequent court appearances, Morsi was forced to remain in a soundproof, glass cage. Activists have accused Sisi’s government of denying Morsi adequate medical attention, despite knowing he had diabetes. The government rejected a call from the United Nations on Tuesday to investigate Morsi’s death, saying it was an attempt to “politicize” events.
In a May interview with WPR, Jared Malsin, a Middle East correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, said freedom of expression was being curbed under Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. But those efforts have significantly intensified under the Sisi regime.
“There’s very little room for free debate of anything—not just of sensitive issues, but also of ‘soft’ social issues, like health care and education,” Malsin told WPR. “You see less and less debate about those things in Egyptian newspapers and on television, and it’s all become a monochrome, pro-government voice in a lot of the media.” Egyptian media was largely in lockstep in diminishing the news of Morsi’s death. Only one newspaper reported his death on its front page, but it didn’t even mention in its headline that he was a former president. One pro-government TV anchor, just hours after Morsi’s death, condemned him as a “terrorist” and a “spy,” and warned his supporters against taking to the streets, according to The New York Times. “To anyone who wants to bury this country: we will bury you first,” the anchor said.