Egypt's former Muslim Brotherhood President, Mohamed Morsi, died on June 17 from a heart attack, while on trial in an Egyptian court.
Unsurprisingly, American Islamists have rushed to lament Morsi's death, referring to him as Egypt's "only democratically elected ruler" and portraying his demise as a symbol of the loss of hope in Egypt. Morsi was a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian Islamist group whose ideology inspired other Brotherhood branches (and other Islamists and jihadists) all across the world. The movement is today deemed a terrorist organization by several countries. It has been blamed for radicalization crisis in Muslim communities by a number of European governments, and the U.S. government is reportedly considering designating it as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
Yet praise for Morsi did not only come from Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers, but also from Islamists across the radical spectrum, including Salafi clerics and members of the violent South Asian movement Jamaat-e-Islami.
While Morsi was democratically elected, he demonstrated his disdain for those very same democratic principles while in power. He and his Islamist allies passed a constitution establishing Islamic law as the main source of legislation. He constrained the media, with critics of the Muslim Brotherhood losing their platforms. He sought to broaden his power and protect his decrees from any judicial challenge, resulting in heated protests.
Morsi also took advantage of the previous regime's laws restricting freedom of expression, leading to many Egyptians being charged with "insulting religion." In addition to these domestic repressions, Morsi pardoned Islamists sentenced to life sentences on terrorism charges.
Despite this dubious record, American Islamists have responded to Morsi's death by presenting him as a fervent defender of Egyptian liberalism and democracy, and painting Muslim Brotherhood Islamism as a moderate force in a despotic region.
Here are just a few examples:
- Yaser Birjas, a popular Salafi preacher in Texas, announced that the "1st ever democratically elected president of Egypt and ousted by a military coup, illegally imprisoned and inhumanly treated is now free" and called on God to "give those who wronged him what they deserve."
- The Islamic Circle of North America, which is a proxy for Jamaat-e-Islami, "offered its deepest sympathies to the people of Egypt on the death of their first and only democratically elected ruler, President Mohammad Morsi" and "calls on the international community to condemn the sham trials and executions of civilians perceived as political opponents to the current military regime."
- Hussam Ayloush, director of the Los Angeles branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for his part blamed Sisi, UAE and Saudi rulers as well as "immoral Egyptians who supported the criminal coup and Sisi" and went on to retweet an article titled "When Morsi died, Egypt's hopes for democracy died with him."
- Yasir Qadhi, another Salafi imam long known for his extremist views - including his rejection of democracy - tweeted that Morsi's death "has only increased his love & honor amongst us and the next life."
- CAIR's national director Nihad Awad also joined the chorus, writing that "#Morsi's case is one of tens of thousands of others-activists, journalists, lawyers, doctors, educators who languish in abhorrent conditions in Egypt under #sisi's authoritarian rule."
- Altaf Husain, a stalwart of the Islamic Society of North America, tweeted "Heartbroken at the news of Dr. Morsi's death. He remains the only democratically elected president of Egypt. May Allah have mercy on his soul and strengthen his family as they grieve his loss."
- Radwan Masmoudi, a D.C.-based member of Tunisia's Islamist Ennahda party, wrote that "Morsi will be remembered for the message that was delivered by Arab despots -- democracy will not be tolerated..."
- The Muslim American Society (MAS) and Majlis Ash-Shura called for an "international investigation" into Morsi's death, with MAS adding that "President Mohamed Morsi, unjustly imprisoned since Egypt's military coup six years ago, leaves behind a legacy that inspires the struggle for freedom, democracy and non-violent change in the Middle East and North Africa."
- The US Council of Muslim Organizations expressed "heartfelt condolences to the family, loved ones, and the Egyptian people for the suspect death yesterday of Mohamed Morsi, the first and only duly elected president in Egypt's history, who gave his last breath as a political prisoner and victim of persecution defending the freedom and right to dignity of his people."
It is noteworthy that posthumous praise from Morsi brought together such a collection of Islamists, with any intra-Islamist divisions temporarily forgotten as they set to work sculpting Morsi into a martyr of democracy, who died defending the most admirable of principles.
However, as Morsi's actual behavior in office showed, his extremism makes it impossible to treat him as a symbol of democratic reform. But his behavior was certainly an inspiration to the duplicity of Islamists in the United States, who have long worked to exploit the advantages and liberties of a democratic society, aiming to broaden their own powers while depriving others of their freedoms.