In a move frustrating to both his followers and his enemies, recently ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi’s whereabouts are currently unknown. He is in military custody within Egypt’s borders, but other than that, his location—or rather, the series of his several locations—is a tightly guarded secret, even as he has received a handful of visitors in recent days.
Even some of Morsi’s visitors do not even know where he is being held, as the military has attempted to confuse and deceive them, sometimes through blindfolds. Egyptian human rights activist Nasser Amin describes going to visit Morsi by helicopter, which swerved and circled to disorient his group. Then, when they landed, they were driven around in a car to disorient them even further. But Amin does have a guess: “I think it might be a military camp outside Cairo or on the outskirts of Cairo.”
Higher-level visitors, like European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, are not blindfolded, but are brought to him in the dark of the night, with confiscated technology and sworn secrecy. Most of the high-level people who have visited Morsi have been foreigners, much to Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party’s dismay. Senior FJP leader Amr Darrag laments, “It’s a shame that the first person to see him is a foreigner. All these Egyptians are not allowed to see him, or even talk to him on the phone.”
While Morsi’s immediate predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in Egypt’s initial Arab Spring revolution in 2011, is living in a grand palace in Sharm al-Sheikh in a location known to the public, there is precedent for deposed leaders to be hidden away in secret locations. Last year, former Malian president Amadou Toumani Touré was secreted away to an unknown location for two weeks, before the junta that overthrew him sent him into exile in Senegal. And in last year’s coup d’état in Guinea-Bissau, ousted prime minister Carlos Gomes Júnior was detained by the military for several days, his whereabouts unknown to the general public.
If there is no kangaroo court leading to the leader’s immediate execution (as is the case for many ousted presidents, like Romania’s Nicolae Ceaușescu or Pakistan’s Zulfikar Ali Bhutto), chances are the military or the new leaders care about the safety and security of the ousted leader for any number of reasons, and therefore hide them away in an unknown location to keep them secure from civilian wrath prior to a trial.
In Morsi’s case, his unknown location is helpful not only for his safety, but also for the country’s stability. The military is worried that if Morsi’s supporters knew, or thought they knew, where he was being held, the location would become a focal point for their increasingly intense rallying. When it was suspected earlier that he was being held in Cairo’s Republican Guard House, the number of protesters in the area swelled, and security forces wound up opening fire and killing over 60. If the FJP or other Muslim Brotherhood affiliates were allowed to visit, as Darrag lamented they were not, it is highly unlikely that they would keep the information of Morsi’s location confidential.
By Laura Gates
Source: The New York Times, BBC