While the news of the death of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has attracted widespread Arab – and to a lesser extent – international media coverage, it has not received much attention from newspapers in Egypt.
The 67-year-old, who collapsed during a court appearance on Monday and was later declared dead in a Cairo hospital, was the country’s first democratically elected president.
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He came to office in June 2012, a year after the Arab Spring uprising saw the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
But Morsi only served one year of his four-year mandate before he faced massive street protests and was removed in a military coup, led by Egypt’s current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in July 2013.
On Tuesday, there was almost no front page coverage of Morsi’s death in Egypt’s major newspapers. Instead, the news was reported briefly on the inside pages which are usually devoted to monitoring criminal cases.
The reports made no mention of Morsi’s status as either a former or an overthrown president.
According to the privately owned online newspaper Mada Masr, the only major daily paper to feature news of Morsi’s death on its front page was Al-Masry Al-Youm, while most other papers published the same 42-word news article.
The three main state-owned newspapers described the ex-president as either “the accused” or “the deceased”, with some privately owned papers not even mentioning the news.
This was also reflected on Egyptian satellite television channels, which relayed the news in vague and abrupt terms, and referred to the Muslim Brotherhood organisation, to which Morsi belonged, as a “terrorist” group.
The largest state-owned newspaper Al Ahram published the news of Morsi’s death on the margins of its fourth page under the heading: “The death of Mohamed Morsi during his trial in the espionage case”.
The Al Akhbar paper’s coverage was similar and included one paragraph entitled: “The death of Mohamed Morsi during his trial.”
The Al Gomhuria paper published a short paragraph at the bottom of its third page under a similar heading.
There was no official statement from the Egyptian presidency or el-Sisi regarding Morsi’s death.
His burial, attended by some of his family members, was a hurried affair that took place at dawn, with security officials standing guard outside the Al-Wafaa Wa al-Amal cemetery. No journalists or other mourners were allowed to be present.
“We washed his noble body at Tora prison hospital, performed prayers for him in the prison mosque … the burial was at the cemetery for Muslim Brotherhood spiritual guides,” Morsi’s son, Ahmed, wrote on Facebook.
According to Morsi’s lawyer, the former president wanted to be buried in his village in Sharqiyah province, but the Egyptian authorities decided to bury him at a cemetery in Cairo’s Medinat Nasr.
Under el-Sisi, media censorship in Egypt has all but increased at a drastic pace. In 2018, the president ratified the Anti-Cyber and Information Technology Crimes Law, which ostensibly aims to combat “extremism” and “terrorism”.
However, the law allows Egyptian authorities to block websites that are considered “a threat to national security” or to the “national economy.” Individuals who visit these websites can face steep fines and penalties.
According to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), Cairo has blocked access to almost 500 websites, most of them belonging to media organisations. Furthermore, at least 35 journalists, citizen-journalists, and bloggers are believed to be currently detained in Egypt.
Health issues and mistreatment
Morsi, who had been behind bars for nearly six years, had a long history of health issues, including diabetes, as well as liver and kidney disease.
He was facing at least six trials at the time of his death and was also serving a 20-year prison sentence for a conviction arising from the killing of protesters during demonstrations in 2012. In addition, he was serving a life sentence for espionage in a case related to the Gulf state of Qatar.
Other charges against the former president included jailbreak, insulting the judiciary and involvement in “terrorism”.
His supporters say the charges against him were politically motivated.
There were also reports over the years that Morsi had been mistreated and tortured in jail, with activists saying on Monday his death should be seen in the context of the Egyptian authorities’ systematic isolation and mistreatment of political detainees.
Human Rights Watch called the news of Morsi’s death “terrible” but “entirely predictable”, citing the government’s “failure to allow him adequate medical care”.
“The government of Egypt today bears responsibility for his death, given their failure to provide him with adequate medical care or basic prisoner rights,” the group said in a statement to Al Jazeera.