Former Egyptian leader Mohamed Mursi, the first democratically elected head of state in the nation’s modern history, died on Monday after collapsing in a Cairo court while on trial on espionage charges, Reuters reports.
Mursi, a top figure in the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, had been in jail since being toppled by the military in 2013 after barely a year in power, following mass protests against his rule.
The 67-year-old former president’s death is likely to pile up international pressure on the Egyptian government over its human rights record, especially conditions in prisons where thousands of Islamists and secular activists are held, the report noted.
According to authorities, Mursi had collapsed in a defendants’ cage in the courtroom shortly after addressing the court, and had been pronounced dead in hospital at 4:50 pm local time Monday. Initial checks had shown no signs of recent injury on his body, they said.
The Muslim Brotherhood described Mursi’s death as a “full-fledged murder” and called for masses to gather at his funeral in Egypt and outside Egyptian embassies around the world.
Mursi’s family previously said his health had deteriorated in prison and that they were rarely allowed to visit.
His son, Abdullah Mohamed Mursi, told Reuters that the family had not been contacted about the details of the burial and were only communicating with the family through their lawyers.
Amnesty International called for an “impartial, thorough and transparent” investigation into Mursi’s death.
“The news of Mohamed Mursi’s death in court today is deeply shocking and raises serious questions about his treatment in custody,” the group said in a statement. “Egyptian authorities had the responsibility to ensure that, as a detainee, he had access to proper medical care.”
After decades of repression under Egyptian autocrats, the Brotherhood won a parliamentary election after a popular uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak and his military-backed establishment in 2011.
Mursi was elected to power in 2012 in Egypt’s first free presidential election, having been thrown into the race at the last moment by the disqualification on a technicality of millionaire businessman Khairat al-Shater, by far the Brotherhood’s preferred choice.
His victory marked a radical break with the military men who had provided every Egyptian leader since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1952.
Mursi promised a moderate Islamist agenda to steer Egypt into a new democratic era in which autocracy would be replaced by transparent government that respected human rights and revived the fortunes of a powerful Arab state long in decline.
But the euphoria that greeted the end of an era of presidents who ruled like pharaohs did not last long.
Mursi, born in 1951 in the dying days of the monarchy, told Egyptians he would deliver an “Egyptian renaissance with an Islamic foundation.”
Instead, he alienated millions who accused him of usurping unlimited powers, imposing the Brotherhood’s conservative brand of Islam and mismanaging the economy, all of which he denied.
Mursi had been in court for a hearing on charges of espionage emanating from suspected contacts with the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which had close ties to the Brotherhood.
A source who was in the court at the time told Reuters that Mursi spoke for around 15 minutes and concluded with a line of poetry about his love for Egypt, before collapsing as the other defendants began banging on the soundproof cage.
His body was taken to the Tora prison hospital, state television reported. A heavy security presence was outside the prison on Monday night.
Mursi’s lawyer said his health had been poor in jail. “We had put in several requests for treatment, some were accepted and others were not,” the lawyer, Abdel-Menem Abdel-Maqsood, told Reuters.
Mursi was serving a 20-year prison sentence for a conviction arising from the killing of protesters during demonstrations in 2012, and a life sentence for espionage in a case related to the Gulf state of Qatar. He had denied the charges.
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