Published in Muftah Magazines on Jun 26 2014. Click here for link .
Coffee with Morsi
July 5th 2024, Cairo
In solitary confinement the universe is a silent, invisible mate that snickers at your loneliness. After an interview, 2 years ago, with the current president resulted in an extended visit to a prison cell, on the outskirts of Cairo, a journalism career had come to a premature end-so it seemed. Thoughts were interrupted when the correction officer’s face, emblazoned with a humane smile; walked in and announced: ‘Rise and shine Amr. Time for your 1 hour of exercise in the courtyard’.
While sipping on a poorly made cup of coffee from the prison canteen my eyes first made contact with his. Disbelievingly, my eyes did a double take as they confirmed that very familiar beard in the corner of the courtyard: it was, indeed, Mohamed Morsi. A soft smile dancing on the outer periphery of his lips resulted in my feet, in spite of my better judgment, sauntering to within 2 feet of the man- and so began my coffee with Morsi.
After exchanging greetings the first words out of Morsi’s mouth were not expected ones about prison life.
M- ‘Don’t be surprised that I know who you are, I respect all those who attempt to speak the truth. But such is the case in this lifetime son: the truth, more often than not, in countries like ours, can lead to a jail cell. Have a seat, I take it you have nothing to do this afternoon?’ He said with bitter sarcasm.
It took me a moment to collect myself and decide to enter into, yet another, conversation with an Egyptian president- after all the last one hadn’t quite turned out so well.
A-‘ Mr. President you speak of truth (I used the term in the same way Americans use it to refer to ex-presidents but it brought a subtle smile to Morsi’s visage)What is the truth about July 3rd 2013 ?’
M- ‘Let’s sit here by this fence in the shade first and have a proper conversation since you asked such a central question to the fate of our people, our nation, our revolution, our world’
Glad to see he hadn’t lost his exaggerative self in jail, I thought. We slowly walked, he more so than I, years in jail had evidently taken their toll physically.
M- ‘It needs to be said before anything else: mistakes were made. But I don’t get it, I just don’t understand it. Haven’t you made mistakes? Hasn’t your father before you? Your mother? Is the president not allowed to be human? In my final speeches I told my sons, and daughters of Egypt that mistakes were made. But we Egyptians are a stubborn sort. Was I supposed to simply walk away and let the tanks roll into Ithadiya (presidential palace)? The biggest mistake of all is this coup but, God willing, truth will prevail over tanks.’
A- ‘Ithadiya was a central turning point of your rule, would you agree that it was the standoff at Ithadiya that brought you here to the blazing sun of this courtyard?’
Rubbing his ever whitening beard slowly Morsi looked closely at my face as if to find the true tonality of the question before him.
M- ‘Look, son, we had enemies and they were many. Mubarak’s cronies were everywhere within government. His businessmen slowed the wheel of production. The judiciary fought us at every turn. The ministry of interior, there for the protection of the people, didn’t even protect us in the presidency. We knew this. We had recordings. We saw them standing in dark alleyways plotting our demise. The demise of Egypt. The demise of the revolution. Was I supposed to stand idly by?’
A- ‘So, in your mind, the supra constitutional addendum that made your decisions above legislative and judicial checks was in defense of the revolution?’ (Looking somewhat incredulously at an ex-president who had clearly not taken one inch back even in prison)
M- (The retort was immediate.) ‘You people just never understood the dynamic. I was, and clearly still am, a misunderstood man. This wasn’t a dictatorship. This was an attempt to fight back the monsters of regression. We wanted to be self-sufficient in wheat production for example but what did the old state and private media focus on? A big hat I wore in Pakistan. Personally, I think I looked handsome in that hat!’ (A big earthy laugh was his mate at the end of that sentence.)
A- (Smiling) ‘I’m not one to judge Mr. President. So let me ask you this: you said made mistakes but you never in your speeches spelled them out. Do you care to change that?’
M- (Turning more serious and leaning in) ‘At first thought it seems a hard question but it is easier than you think. What brought me to the presidency? It was the revolution, of course. What didn’t I do with enough verve? Put the enemies of the revolution on trial, doing so would have paved the way for the revolutionary ideas we had. Ministers, for example, like Bassem Ouda, former minister of supply and interior trade, if you will recollect, had an agenda similar to ours but weren’t given the opportunity to implement ideas meant to bridge the wealth gap. I can only imagine what Egypt would have been in 3 more years were we still in office. (Becoming more animated). Mind you, God willing, we are returning to the office of the presidency.’
A- (Stunned but trying to recover) ‘Sir, did I understand you?…’
M- (Interrupting with a decisive tone after sipping on his coffee with a slightly perceptible slurp.) ‘Yes, you got it correctly: I will return to the presidency. What men like you don’t understand Amr is that God is greater than a few hundred thousand men with guns. In His hands all is possible and His justice will be done.’
A- ‘I am not doubting your Sir but I am simply trying to understand. After all you have been in jail over 11 years and if I understand correctly you have been sentenced you have just been sentenced to death for the 7th time in the past 11 months.’
M- (Looking miffed and waving his right hand as if to shoo a mosquito away) ‘The will of my people and the will of God is far greater than a judiciary that serves the interests of a few. Look at history, you look like a well-read man, have you seen a situation where injustice persists ad infinitum? Egypt is no different. The revolution is just taking a snooze by the side of the road but she will wake up and when she does those who rule will know my rule once again. (Smiling mischievously) In fact, I will help you get this interview out so they can hear this message: surrender now, before you have to face my wrath upon my return to rightful seat.
A- (Seizing the opportunity of Morsi being energized by his last statement) ‘I see. Many analysts, within and without Egypt, stated unequivocally that it was not you who ruled sir. They argued it was the Muslim Brotherhood who ruled Egypt during your one year tenure. How does that view strike you?’
M- (Looking downright aggravated) ‘Are you with them or are you with us?’
A- ‘Cant I just be with Egypt sir?’
M- ‘Fair enough. Fair enough. My brothers in the brotherhood, naturally, played a huge role in allowing me to grow politically. You are no fool and nor are Egyptians and so I tell you this: we talked together, at times, of the well-being of the nation; nothing more and nothing less. Mohamed Morsi Eissa Al Ayat ruled the Arab Republic of Egypt and no one else. No one else.’
A- ‘One final two part question sir. At the end of your era sectarian speech reached an all-time high and resulted in the killing of 4 Shia, including a leader of the sect: Hassan Shehata, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-23026865 . Also, there was a systematic attack on the arts by the Muslim Brotherhood by trying to control the Cairo Opera House http://ipezone.blogspot.com/2013/05/culture-war-muslim-brotherhood-v-cairo.html . Were you to blame sir? ‘
M- ‘You may as well blame me for Ethiopia’s efforts to control the Nile son! I have no comment on the action of extremists. They are extremists and I am not. But I will say this: Opera and ballets? Really?!’
The guards were making their way towards us with a decisiveness that foretold the end of this impromptu coffee with Morsi. The ex-president smiled, shook my hand with a surprising vigor and turned to walk away.
As Morsi made his way towards his cell and me towards mine I turned, for a final look, with one thought prominent: even after all these years, and the ability to self-critique and face facts is still persona non grata Mr. President?