In June 2012, I stood with hundreds of thousands of Mohamed Morsi’s supporters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where they prayed that the Egyptian military, still powerful behind the scenes, would allow a fair ballot count. Independent tallies suggested that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi had squeaked past the military’s preferred candidate in Egypt’s first-ever free presidential election—the only question was whether the vote would be rigged.
“We will stay in this square until Morsi wins,” an engineer named Khaled told me. “We will stay here even after he wins.” When the results were announced, pandemonium broke out. Khaled hugged me, a complete stranger, with such force that his eyeglasses snapped.
At Morsi’s nearby campaign headquarters, his spokesman, Yahia Hamed, waxed poetic when I asked him how a Morsi administration would treat the police officers who had harassed, jailed, and tortured Muslim Brothers for more than half a century.
“I will quote Nelson Mandela, who said when he was released from prison, ‘Let us surprise them with our generosity,’” he told me. “So we, too, must surprise them with our generosity.”
It was not to be. In power, Morsi—who died yesterday after collapsing in court—and other senior Brotherhood politicians rammed through unpopular laws and wrote a new constitution that was anathema to liberal and secular Egyptians. There was no consensus, no consultation. Morsi tried to place his own decision making beyond any accountability or oversight, like every other dictator and tyrant in Egypt’s history. Eventually all but his most doctrinaire supporters turned against him. The best that one former Brother could say about Morsi after his election was, “At least he won’t shoot us in the streets.” In the fall of 2012, thuggish Morsi supporters tortured anti-Morsi protesters on the grounds of the presidential palace, proving even that minimal hope unrealistic.