Egypt’s first democratically elected civilian president Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist who was ousted after one year of divisive rule, died after falling ill during a court hearing on Monday, the attorney general said. He was 67.
Morsi had been “animated” during a hearing in the retrial of an espionage case where he was accused of collaborating with adverse foreign powers and militant groups, judicial and security sources said.
“The court granted him his request to speak for five minutes… He fell to the ground in the cage… and was transported immediately to the hospital. A medical report found… no pulse or breathing,” the office of the attorney general said in a statement.
“He arrived at the hospital dead at 4.50 pm exactly and there were no new, visible injuries found on the body.”
One of Morsi’s defence lawyers described the moment he received news of his death.
“We heard the banging on the glass cage from the rest of the other inmates and them screaming loudly that Morsi had died,” the lawyer, Osama El Helw, told AFP.
“I saw him from afar wheeled out on the stretcher from the courts complex” from Tora, in southern Cairo, said another one of his lawyers, Abdelmoneim Abdel-Maksoud.
“They prevented us from leaving the court for about 15 minutes,” he added, without being able to say which hospital the former president had been transported to.
A judicial source said the former Islamist president had fainted during a break in the court session.
The court officials “had just finished the session for the espionage case and they informed the judge that he had fainted and needed to be transported to a hospital where he later died,” he told AFP.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a strong ally of the Islamist president during his brief tenure as Egypt’s leader, paid tribute to Morsi and called him a “martyr”.
– Qatar emir’s ‘deep sorrow’ –
Qatar’s ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, another strong backer of Morsi, took to Twitter to say “we received with deep sorrow the news of the sudden death of former President Dr. Mohammed Morsi”.
Morsi spent just one turbulent year in office after the 2011 uprising. He was toppled in a military overthrow after millions took to the streets demanding his resignation.
The Islamist leader has been in prison since his ouster on trial for several cases including for spying for Iran, Qatar and militant groups such as Hamas in the Gaza Strip. He was also accused of plotting terror acts.
He was sentenced to death in May 2015 for his role in jailbreaks during the uprising that ousted his predecessor, long time autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Since his overthrow on July 3, 2013, his former defence minister now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has waged an ongoing crackdown targeting his supporters from the Muslim Brotherhood with thousands jailed and hundreds facing death sentences.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch Middle East director, tweeted “This is terrible but ENTIRELY predictable, given government failure to allow him adequate medical care”.
Other Brotherhood leaders have also died in custody.
The years following Morsi’s overthrow have seen a surge in bombings and shootings targeting security forces, particularly in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula, a stronghold of the Islamic State group.
Morsi’s turbulent rule was marked by deep divisions in Egyptian society, a crippling economic crisis and often-deadly opposition protests.