Mohamed Morsi: from Political Prisoner to Egyptian President

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Mohamed Morsi, the first freely elected President of Egypt, was known as a soft-spoken compromising academic, with a history of political study and activism. He enjoyed a meteoric rise to become leader of his country, in its first freely democratic election, but was then ousted in a coup, imprisoned in what many saw were harsh conditions, and facing yet another trial, died while giving testimony. He was 67.

Born in 1951 to peasant farmers in the Nile Delta province of Sharqiya, he pursued an interest in engineering and earned a master's degree (in 1975) and a master's degree (in 1978) from Cairo University. He was married in 1979, to Najla Ali Mahmoud. Not long after, the family moved to the U.S. Two of their five children were born there. Morsi earned his Ph.D at the University of Southern California, in 1982, and later served as assistant professor at California State University, Northridge.

Morsi returned to his home country in 1985 and began teaching at Zagazig University. Eventually, he pursued an interest in politics. He was briefly a member of the Committee to Resist Zionism and was, until his election to the presidency, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

He was elected to Parliament in 2000 and re-elected in 2005. Because the Muslim Brotherhood was at this time officially outlawed, Morsi ran as an independent. His actions in anti-government protests later that year resulted in his removal as an MP and, more ominously, time in jail. He was released and then served in the Brotherhood's highest group, the Guidance Bureau. This again made him a target for Hosni Mubarak's government, and Morsi was arrested on January 28, 2011. Days later, Mubarak had fled and Morsi and hundreds more political prisoners were free.

Beginning in April 2011, Morsi served as leader of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party. He, along with Khairat El-Shater, declared themselves candidates for the presidency after the Brotherhood reversed a longstanding promise not to run a candidate for the country's top office. When El-Shater was disqualified, Morsi became the FJP's standard-bearer.

Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister to serve under Mubarak, were the top two vote-getters in the first round of presidential elections. In the subsequent runoff, Morsi secured 51.7 percent of the vote, enough to propel him to the presidency. In his victory speech, he promised to try to unite Egypt's disparate political and religious communities.

Morsi, elected in June 2012, did not serve a full term. He was ousted in a coup led by al-Sisi in 2013. Morsi was arrested and convicted on multiple charges of incitation to violence. He was in court yet again, facing charges of espionage, when he died. He was 67.

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David White