Historical analogies can often be misleading, especially when a notable anniversary places them readily to hand.
Mohamad Morsi is not Salvador Allende, overthrown in the seminal Chilean coup 40 years ago. But General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is Egypt’s Augusto Pinochet — complete with military regalia and sunglasses.
The response of Western governments betrays all the cynicism of Henry Kissinger, who threatened before the “first 9/11” in 1973, “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”
Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair immediately backed the Egyptian coup, claiming that the military “had no choice” but to act, citing the disputed figure of 17 million people on the streets and warning that the alternative was chaos.
Escalating state violence since — the latest, the massacre of Morsi supporters in Rabaa al-Adawia square — has brought ritualistic expressions of concern and calls for calm “on all sides” from Washington and London. There were expressions of concern at “excesses” in 1973 also.
There has been a theatrical stay on the latest batch of British military equipment and US F-16s heading to the Egyptian military, but the underlying subventions to the generals continue to flow, swelled now by largesse from that impeccably liberal, democratic state the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
There is a frightening and reckless campaign to whip up popular hysteria in the name of “anti-terrorism” against not only the Muslim Brotherhood but all those who oppose the post-coup government. If successful, the victim will also be the gains the Egyptian people made in overthrowing Mubarak. Writing in The Guardian earlier this week, Brotherhood spokesman Gehad al-Haddad was right about that.
The most feared and insidious of the organs of the Interior Ministry are being strengthened and rehabilitated — the Central Security Forces and the units targeting political and religious opposition.
Sisi is trying to claim the mantle of President Gamal Abdel Nasser; his call for a plebiscite of the streets last week coincided with the anniversaries of both the flight of British-backed King Farouk in 1952 and Nasser’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal four years later.
However, Egypt’s generals, entwined militarily and economically through their own conglomerates with regional and Western powers, have no intention of embarking on independent national development. The economics of the “interim government” comes from the World Bank and Egypt’s billionaires, the foreign policy from the State Department, domestic policy from Mubarak-era torturers.
Yet there is a bitter truth for the Muslim Brotherhood leadership. Those who plot against them now did so a year ago when Morsi won the election. Why have they been successful in moving the Brotherhood a year on?
It’s not because the mass of Egyptians have abandoned the aspirations of the 25 January revolution that overthrew Mubarak and drew behind it a vacillating Brotherhood leadership. The demand for bread, freedom and social justice is still heard in the streets: the Morsi government failed spectacularly on all three.
The interior minister threatening terror now is the same police chief Morsi praised whenever state forces repressed and tortured over the last 12 months. Sisi is destroying the tunnels to Gaza. They were bombed and flooded under Morsi. Factories closed while nothing, above all fair taxes, impeded the wealthy.
Egyptian sovereignty remained truncated by the Camp David accords, while Morsi spoke of armed jihad — not to relieve Palestine, but against another Arab government in the civil war in Syria, a part of which remains under Israeli occupation.
The post-coup government and its liberal supporters are whipping up a xenophobic, chauvinist wave directed at Palestinian and Syrian refugees and spuriously claiming to resist US interference. But the Brotherhood leadership fanned sectarian hatreds against the Shia and Copt minorities, while Morsi claimed up to the last minute that he enjoyed US support.
The bitter disillusion of millions of who lent their votes to Morsi is real, not a confection. Half his votes in the second round last year came from those of anti-Mubarak candidates who were defeated in the first round.
For all these reasons, the attempt to reimpose the deep-state arrangements of the Mubarak era will not be defeated under the flag of the Muslim Brotherhood. Still less under the black flag of those who will use this coup, as they did two decades ago in Algeria, to promote a nihilist and sectarian armed struggle.
It will have to come from the young people and the impoverished masses who have driven the revolution these past two and half years, and who count among their number a minority who are opposing the repression of the Brotherhood’s members. It’s a difficult path. And they will get no backing from the Western powers or those “liberals” in Egypt who look to them and back the generals.
They deserve, however, the support of all those who genuinely stand democracy, freedom and development.
There is a useful collection of documents on the post-coup situation from the Egyptian radical Left here.