The death this week of Egypt’s first democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi at the hands of the Egyptian state has thrust the crisis of the Arab world into the limelight - the pretense of democracy, gross violations of human rights, and illegitimate governments that rule through repression.
If solitary confinement in apartheid South Africa was a crime and form of torture, why is it that as South Africans we have kept quiet while Morsi was being kept in round the clock solitary confinement for the last six years?
In South Africa only Robert Sobukwe was kept in solitary confinement for that length of time, and denied family visits for extended periods of time, just as Morsi has been.
But even the sadistic penal system of Robben Island allowed Sobukwe medical attention, and did not allow his condition to deteriorate to the point of premature death as was the case with Morsi in the hands of Egyptian authorities.
We cannot pretend we didn’t know. The problem is that we have grown complacent and apathetic. These atrocities are committed in far off places on our continent, and we have grown weary of fighting for justice and the rights of those who can no longer speak for themselves.
Over a year ago a panel of British politicians and lawyers warned that the prison conditions which Morsi was being kept in were so poor they could lead to his early death.
They specifically noted the inadequate provision of medical care for his diabetes and liver disease, and human rights organisations also reported on his lack of medical care and food. The British panel went as far as to say that the conditions of Morsi’s detention could meet the threshold for torture under Egyptian and international law.
Morsi’s family and associates believe he was killed slowly by the state over six years, in an attempt to make it appear like he died of natural causes. So compelling are the allegations of torture and ill treatment that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Rupert Colville has called for an investigation into Morsi’s death, as have Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which have kept a watching brief on the conditions Morsi was subjected to.
The travesty of justice is that Morsi is just one of tens of thousands of civilians jailed on trumped up charges, who have been enduring similar nightmares ever since the military-orchestrated coup against Morsi in 2013.
Egypt’s deep state was determined to crush its nemesis the Muslim Brotherhood once and for all, and 60,000 people were jailed, and remain behind bars in horendous conditions up to today.
There are countless reports of brutal torture, inhuman conditions and severe deprivation being experienced by members of the Muslim Brotherhood and others considered government opponents.
Morsi’s Foreign Affairs Adviser Essam al-Haddad and his brother have also been in solitary confinement for six years, Haddad having already suffered four heart attacks as a result of his incarceration. Any attempt by the African Court for Human and Peoples’ Rights to criticise Egypt’s human rights violations since 2015 have been met with a sustained attack by Egyptian authorities to silence them.
The coup against Morsi after he had been elected in Egypt’s first free and fair democratic election in 2012 was orchestrated by his Defence Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sisi with the backing of Egypt’s deep state.
Sisi then instituted a transitional military council to rule until elections, and orchestrated his own election. The entire subversion of democracy was in complete violation of the African Union’s own principles against unconstitutional changes of government, but its isolation on the regional stage was short lived.
The greatest coup for Sisi has been Egypt’s election as the Chair of the AU for this year - the very position which is meant to hold leaders like him accountable for their excesses and human rights abuses.
But the tragic story of what happened to Morsi and his untimely death in the hands of an authoritarian state is symptomatic of a much deeper problem in the Middle East and North Africa region - the democratic deficit and the belief that repressive rule by either militaries or monarchies is sustainable for the foreseeable future.
That is why the emergence of a democratic fight back in Sudan and Algeria poses such a serious challenge to the status quo in the region, and explains why repressive governments have encouraged Sudan’s military rulers to crush peaceful protests before they end the power of ruling elites.
If a legitimate democracy flourishes in a major Arab state like Egypt or Sudan, it could very well spell the end of military power and influence which has prevailed in these countries for decades.
Given the entrenchment of the military in the national economies of these countries there is much to lose, and the battle will be brutal to maintain their power and privilege.
* Ebrahim is the Group Foreign Editor