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Egypt's Ousted President Mohammed Morsi Dies After Fainting In Court


Deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has died after collapsing in a Cairo courtroom. The Egyptian government says he fainted after addressing the court during a retrial on spying charges. Morsi was the country's first democratically elected president in 2012, but he was ousted by street protests and the military, then jailed during a sweeping crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood, along with thousands of others. NPR's Jane Arraf joins us now from Cairo. Hi, Jane.


SHAPIRO: Remind us of the circumstances under which Mohamed Morsi first came to power.

ARRAF: So absolutely historic - he won what are widely considered free and fair elections right after the Arab Spring. You remember those peaceful protests that, in Egypt, brought down 30 years of dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. He was, as you mentioned, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate; that's a group that's now banned.

So the thing is, he didn't govern very long, and he didn't govern very well. In 2013, just a year after he was elected, there were huge protests. And the Army, led by a general named Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who is now president, stepped in and forced him out. He was jailed along with thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters. And he's basically been on trial for essentially much of the last six years. He was actually convicted. And in court today, he was undergoing one of the retrials.

SHAPIRO: And can you tell us about what exactly happened in court today?

ARRAF: Pretty dramatic. The Egyptian public prosecutor says that he was given permission to address the court. He said he wanted to speak. So he stood in a wooden cage with the other defendants, the way they do. And he spoke for about five minutes. We don't know exactly what he said. But one report says that he said that he had secrets. And then he fainted. And the public prosecutor says he was taken to hospital but was dead on arrival. He had been suffering from health problems, which his family and Human Rights Watch says had been untreated over the years, while he'd been in hospital - while he'd been in prison.

SHAPIRO: And how are people reacting to this sudden, unexpected death?

ARRAF: So there's been a wide range. To some people, including Turkish president, for instance, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he has become a martyr. Muslim Brotherhood officials in other countries are accusing the Egyptian government of basically killing him by denying him medical treatment and otherwise mistreating him in prison. And we spoke to Khaled Fahmy, who's a historian at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. Here's how Fahmy describes his legacy.

KHALED FAHMY: He will be seen by the millions of followers of the Muslim Brotherhood as a nearly tragic figure who paid a very heavy price for playing according to the rules of democracy. But he will be seen by millions of other Egyptians as a head of a clandestine organization that didn't really have the best interests of Egypt in mind.

ARRAF: So really, a very polarizing figure. And Fahmy, who is Egyptian, says the government here basically holds people so long, it thinks of prisons as places of exile. He says they don't sentence people to death; basically, they send people to die. They do, in fact, also send people to death. But the mood here is subdued. There surely are people who are mourning him, many who are happy that he's dead. But even if they wanted to, those supporters of his, they're afraid to protest. The government isn't expected to allow a public funeral.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Jane Arraf speaking with us from Cairo. Thank you, Jane.

ARRAF: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.