As calls grow for a transparent investigation into the cause of death of the former Egyptian president, here are some key points Egypt needs to address.

Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammad Morsi, died on Monday, June 17, following nearly six years of imprisonment, after being overthrown in a military coup by current President Abdel Fattah el Sisi.

Former general Sisi became Egypt’s president in 2014 and was reelected again in 2019 after all his opponents dropped out due to arrest, intimidation or unequal campaigning fields.

Egyptian authorities claim Morsi died of a fatal heart attack in a Cairo court. 

Many have speculated over the possibility of foul play and calls for a transparent investigation into Morsi’s death are on the rise, joining calls from the United Nations, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International.

As the pressure for full disclosure increases, here are the top seven questions Egyptian authorities have yet to answer in spite of their insistence that he died a ‘natural death’ well before an investigation was even mounted.

1) Morsi’s poor health was widely documented for years, why wasn’t he given adequate medical treatment?

While appearing in court in June 2017, Morsi asked to speak to his lawyers about ‘crimes’ he suffered in prison. His request was denied.

Instead, an official health report was presented during the court hearing declaring him to be in good health aside from high blood pressure.

But he was hardly in good health.

Writing in a Washington Post op-ed last year, Abdullah Morsi, the former president’s son, said his father had lost most of his sight in one eye while in prison due to inadequate health care. 

“We fear that the Egyptian authorities are doing this on purpose, since they want to see him dead ‘from natural causes’ as soon as possible,” Morsi wrote.

Speaking to HRW, Morsi’s family detailed how he fainted twice and fell into a diabetic coma during the first week of June 2017. 

According to HRW MENA Director Sarah Leah Whitson, Morsi told his family that a medical professional told him he needed surgery for his deteriorating sight, but that he was never able to get it.

The only medical attention Morsi received, according to HRW, was the occasional blood pressure or sugar level check by a nurse or doctor. 

No additional medical care was provided. He was even forced to buy his own insulin, according to the group.

Former president Hosni Mubarak, by contrast, received full medical attention. Mubarak, deposed during the Arab spring protests, was transferred to a military hospital from prison after he developed health problems.

2) Why was Morsi left in his cage for 20 minutes after he collapsed?

When Morsi collapsed in court during his trial on espionage charges, he was being kept inside a soundproof glass cage which was installed to ensure he could not speak at will.

Egypt's public prosecutor stated that the 67-year-old leader was immediately rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Abdullah al Haddad, whose father and brother were also on trial with Morsi, tells a different story, describing how security forces left the former president "slumped on the floor" of his cage for more than 20 minutes.

"He was left slumped for a while until the guards took him out," al Haddad told The Independent, while adding that no first aid measures were provided to him inside the cage.

The ambulance only arrived 30 minutes later. 

3) Why was Morsi denied the chance to present evidence that could exonerate him?

In his final moments, Morsi urged the judge to let him share secrets that could exonerate him. 

He told the judge he needed to speak in a closed session to reveal the information, a request the deposed president had repeatedly asked for in the past but never been granted.

If Morsi claimed to have evidence that may have affected his legal proceedings, why wasn’t it heard? The length of the case, and his imprisonment without bail during that time may have contributed to the deterioration of his health.

4) Why was Morsi kept in the infamous Scorpion Prison known for torture?

Tora Prison, also dubbed the ‘Scorpion Prison’, has been described as a “tomb for political prisoners” and widely denounced for its inhumane conditions and torture tactics. 

A satellite photograph of Scorpion Prison taken in September 2016. Inmates suffer abuses in secret and are denied most access to the outside world. Satellite imagery.© 2016 DigitalGlobe – NextView
A satellite photograph of Scorpion Prison taken in September 2016. Inmates suffer abuses in secret and are denied most access to the outside world. Satellite imagery.© 2016 DigitalGlobe – NextView (DigitalGlobe)

On Tuesday, Rupert Colville, Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for a probe into whether the conditions Morsi faced during his nearly six years in custody led to his death.

"Any sudden death in custody must be followed by a prompt, impartial, thorough and transparent investigation carried out by an independent body to clarify the cause of death," he said. 

Crispin Blunt, the former chair of the foreign affairs select committee in the UK parliament, also called for a thorough investigation.

Blunt led an independent review by British MPs in March last year concluding that the conditions Morsi was being kept in were likely to lead to his premature death while condemning his treatment as cruel, inhumane and degrading.

Following Morsi’s death, Blunt said: “We found that his detention could meet the threshold for torture in accordance Egyptian and international law. We found that the conditions of Dr Morsi’s detention would be of such continuing interest to the whole chain of command that the current president [the former army chief Abdel Fatah el Sisi] could in principle be responsible for the crime of torture, which is a crime of universal jurisdiction.”

Blunt said his main concern was that Morsi’s liver disease and diabetes were not being treated. 

5) Why was Morsi kept in solitary confinement?

Morsi was kept in solitary confinement repeatedly over six years, for as long as 23 hours a day, even after his health deteriorated; a physical and psychological punishment usually only reserved for hardened belligerent criminals who pose a threat to other inmates. 

As an ailing political prisoner who represented no physical threat or risk of escape from a maximum-security prison, why was he isolated in what many recognise as a form of torture?

6) Why was he denied a normal funeral?

"I don't believe that this was a normal death," said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He went on to denounce the discreet burial of Morsi, with only a few members of his family present. More to the point, given claims by Egyptian authorities that investigations into the conditions of his death would take place, why was he buried immediately, hours after his death? 

His family’s request to bury him in his home town was rejected.

7) Was Morsi’s death a surprise to Egyptian authorities given others who died in prison custody?

Morsi is not the first prisoner to succumb to the harsh conditions of prison in Egypt. 

In the first 100 days of Sisi’s administration alone, HRW reported at least 35 people died in custody. 

Of the 35, fifteen cases identified a cause of death: thirteen due to overcrowding or failure to provide medical care, and two involving physical abuse.

The numbers could be much higher, with human rights agencies criticising their lack of access to observe prisoner conditions.

If there was a precedent for the death of prisoners in custody, can Morsi’s death be construed in good conscience, as an accident due to natural causes, or a premeditated policy of neglect?

Source: TRT World