In the aftermath of the January 25 Revolution, General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi said that the army’s interference in public life sets back the country by 30 or 40 years. There is some irony in that statement today, given his role as the leader of the coup which toppled President Mohammed Morsi, and the fact that the people of Chile have just commemorated the 40th anniversary of Augusto Pinochet’s coup against President Salvador Allende.
Comparisons have already been made between the two coups in the past week or so. On the face of it, Pinochet’s was less of a surprise given the changes to Chile that Allende was proposing.
Mohammed Morsi, however, was not a communist, nor did he make major changes to the political or cultural identity of the country, as Allende had. Morsi did not put the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology into practice regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict and he did not cancel the Camp David Peace Treaty signed by his predecessor Anwar Sadat. He did not arrest corrupt businessmen and did not set up revolutionary trials of army officers and security agents who had shed Egyptian blood for many years. Morsi’s tragic flaw, I think, is that he thought that he could reconcile with hornets or pave the way for the remnants of the Mubarak regime, the so-called deep state, to be involved with the revolutionary forces.
As president, Morsi accepted the army’s conditions for the Constitution and let army officers control the largest segment of the government’s budget unmonitored. He also let the corrupt judicial system play with ballot outcomes. He did not even touch the mass media, which was subsidised from the pockets of the remnants and the enemies of the revolution to incite a civil war within Egypt. The mistake of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Morsi in particular, was that it is a conservative group which was put into revolutionary circumstances out of its depth and it did not have the resilience to deal with that situation.
In Chile, the communists were accused of the same crimes as the Brotherhood officials are. As in Egypt under Al-Sisi, the United States not only supported the Chilean coup but also described the army leader as the protector of democracy; Allende was a revolutionary communist who threatened American interests in Latin America. He launched radical economic reforms in favour of the labouring poor.
In his last speech, Allende told them, “I can tell the labourers that I will not resign. I will sacrifice my life for the principles which unite our nation. I believe in this country and its future. Other men will pass and this gray stage of the history of our nation will come to an end. You are advised to know, sooner or later, that new horizons for this nation will be opened and free men, like you, will pass through them. These are my last words and I know that my sacrifice will not go in vain.” After that, he was killed after refusing to bargain with the army or commit suicide using a pistol gifted to him by his comrade Fidel Castro.
Morsi’s last speech echoed Allende’s words. He spoke to the nation and different generations; sons and grandsons would know that their fathers refused to bargain away their country and freedom, and they preferred death over accepting the opinion of corrupted people. Likewise, Al-Sisi’s speech is reminiscent of Pinochet’s. He also told the people that he is the protector of the country from “terrible communism”, which he said threatens the state.
Pinochet left this world as a disgraced and disregarded dictator. He faced the ignominy of a public trial as an old man. Allende, on the other hand, still stands tall as a freedom fighter respected by the people as the man who did not betray those who voted for him. In that sense, Morsi can also hold his head up high, preferring self-respect in prison over abasement in the presidential palace.
Neither Allende nor Morsi were perfect in office. However, dictators tend not to learn from the mistakes of others. Those who have overthrown Morsi should remember that Pinochet’s was not the last trial of a dictator to take place. Generals in Turkey have also been put on trial, but is anyone learning from this lesson? Tomorrow’s big issue will not be about when to prosecute Mohamed Morsi but when to put Al-Sisi and his supporters on trial. History tells us that it is almost inevitable that this will happen. The question is, does Al-Sisi expect the same fate as Pinochet or has he learnt nothing from the past?
Yasser Abu Hilalah is the bureau chief of Al Jazeera’s office Amman, Jordan. This article is a translation of the Arabic text which appeared in Al Ghad newspaper, 13 September, 2103
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.