I keep a black and white photograph on the wall. It’s a grainy old black and white photo, poorly mounted and inexpertly framed. Very few people who mount the stairs from the door to my living room recognize the faces in the picture. Usually they ignore it completely but sometimes their attention is drawn by the large hammer and sickle in the center foreground. It has been years since any visitors recognized that the unsmiling, somber figure just above and behind the Communist emblem is the former President of Chile, Salvador Allende. He is, appropriately perhaps, surrounded by members of the Popular Unity government and yet appears to be abstracted and isolated. Only the Minister of Labor, Luis Figueroa, is looking directly at Allende who lay dead in Chile’s presidential palace, La Moneda, a week after the photograph was taken. General Augusto Pinochet had seized power in a military coup and the Chilean Air Force had bombed Chile's own government center.
For obvious reasons the coup against President Mohammad Morsi has been compared to the coup against Allende. Emotionally the picture is compelling: democratically elected presidents forced out of office by generals who profoundly hated their politics and who then pursued increasingly violent campaigns against the remaining civilian opposition. In the world of American academic politics the comparison is especially powerful because it suggests that the anti-communism that drove policies a generation ago and now seems shameful and regrettable is surfacing again as “Islamophobia” or an irrational hatred of Islam. Saving democracy, a lost cause in 1973, is now possible and a moral imperative as the events of the past are replayed in a different part of the world with a different cast of characters.
It would be useless to enter an academic hissing match about whether the characters really are playing the appropriate roles: Egyptian General Abdelfattah Sisi as Pinochet and Morsi as Allende. The argument as it stands is rooted in the moral sentiments of observers, but a closer look at the comparison can be useful. It reveals the substantial differences between the use of the electoral process for economic change and political democratization. It also reveals how military interventions may have very different ways of deploying violence, even overwhelmingly high levels of violence. And it reveals the degree to which, regardless of the extent or experience of constitutional rule, armies are likely intervene when levels of political polarization reach the point at which civil conflict threatens.
At the most superficial level the comparison obviously succeeds and equally obviously fails. Two presidents, democratically elected, were both ousted by a military establishment. One, Allende, was engaged within a political system that had been a functioning constitutional democracy for at least 40 years. He sought to fashion a transition to socialism and more particularly to enhance the role of the state in the economy and to make the distribution of goods and services more equitable. Morsi’s election in an open contest occurred a year after the collapse of a 60-year old authoritarian regime under the influence of an immense revolutionary upheaval. He appears to have been laying the foundation for an Islamic state the contours and content of which remain somewhat vague. Allende was secular, socialist and considered himself a democrat; Morsi was an Islamist, committed to private property, and also considered himself a democrat.
From the viewpoint of American social scientists and policy makers the differences may not matter. Both men were engaged in “transformative politics” against entrenched interests. Both had been chosen by the appropriate mechanisms to hold the country’s highest executive office. Both were overthrown by the military bureaucracies acting on their own and in their own interest. Neither army had fought a foreign enemy in decades and neither general had any experience in combat. Calling Al-Sisi Pinochet, like calling Pinochet Hitler, is sufficiently satisfying not to require further reflection.
What happens though if we look at the comparison as something less like a slogan and more like an analysis? We can begin to see more clearly the outlines of Morsi’s catastrophic political failure and we may begin to understand some of its roots. We may also begin to see, unpleasant as it may be, more clearly into the ways in which the Egyptian military intends to use force.
Like Mohammad Morsi, Salvador Allende running as the candidate of the Popoular Unity Coalition won the presidency with a slender lead. Although Morsi received just under 25 % of the vote in the first round, he was elected by about 52 % in a run-off. Unlike Morsi, however, Allende only won a plurality, 36.2 % of the 3 million votes cast; conservative Jorge Alessandri won 34.9 % of the votes and Christian Democrat Radomiro Tomic has 27.8 %. Unlike Egypt, Chile then had no run-off. With no majority candidate, the names of the top two candidates went to the legislature which itself was dominated by Allende’s opponents. The legislature had historically chosen the candidate with the most votes, and to placate his opposition Allende signed a formal “Statute of Constitutional Guarantees.”
In the end, Christian Democratic congressmen voted for Allende rather than abstain or return Alessandri who had been president from 1958-1964 to the office. Allende obtained the presidency with a considerably weaker electoral mandate than Mohammad Morsi. He knew it, his opponents knew it, and the Chilean population knew it. Allende’s Socialist party did gain the Interior (as in Egypt the ministry that controls the police unlike the US where the Interior Department controls the national parks) and Defense ministries but despite nominal civilian control over the Armed Forces it proved impossible to prevent a coup. Jose Toha, Allende’s first Minister of the Interior, was suspended by Congress for tolerating the emergence of left-wing militias He was then named Minister of Defense by Allende but was ultimately forced from that portfolio as well. Clodomiro Almeyda, a left-wing Socialist, replaced him until he was himself succeeded by General Carlos Prats.
Unlike Egypt in 2012, Chile had a well-established constitution. It had been written in 1925 and the timing of elections made it almost impossible for a single party to control the executive and legislative branches. No exception occurred in 1970 for the UP coalition had 20 senators (of 50) in the upper house and 60 (out of 150) in the lower house. Unlike Morsi whose own coalition had 235 of 508 seats in the lower house and 105 of 180 elected seats in the upper house, Allende never had a friendly legislature. Before the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved the lower house, Morsi had a working plurality in the Egyptian parliament. After the dissolution of the lower house and the passage of the new constitution in December 2012 Morsi was a president with a majority in the rump upper house that constituted the legislature (and to which he had, by right, appointed 90 of the total of 270 members).
The hostility of the courts and the legislature was directly rooted in Allende’s socialist agenda challenging the inviolability of private property. His insistence on completing the nationalization of the large mining properties (already begun as “Chileanization” under Eduardo Frei, his Christian Democratic predecessor) as well as other sectors of the economy brought him into conflict with the judiciary and the legislature. His equally great insistence on distributing many of the fruits of the nationalization through programs such as provision of milk to all children was seen by many as a threat: whether by degrading the efficiency of the economy or deploying the strategy of the “rentier state” (a phrase that had barely been invented at the time) to enhance his party’s control over the powers of government.
The relationship of the Armed Forces to the executive and more generally to the constitutional order is less easily comparable than other aspects of the two presidents’ tenure. Allende’s civilian ministers of defense and the interior never really controlled the armed forces or the police respectively. Nevertheless, when Allende was elected the Chilean Armed Forces had not intervened against a civilian government in more than 40 years and it was common to argue that Chile had an unbroken chain of constitutional governments going back to the late nineteenth century. No coup was possible in Chile until violence within the military itself had brought new leadership to the Army. This process began when a group of dissident officers and former officers, with the aid of the US Central Intelligence Agency, murdered Army Chief of Staff General René Schneider in October 1970 shortly before Allende’s inauguration.
Until 1973, the Army had been guided by the so-called “Schneider doctrine” expressing the general’s belief in the need for a complete separation of political and military power. Schneider’s successor, General Carlos Prats, accepted the doctrine and even put down an attempted coup on June 29, 1973, the so-called Tanquetazo. Prats was forced out of the Army weeks before the coup and in 1974 was murdered in exile by the Chilean secret services. In his place, Allende appointed the little known and colorless Augusto Pinochet as chief of staff. It is not surprising that before 1970 scholars ranked the Chilean Armed forces as one of the least likely to make a coup and that until the very end few Chileans or foreigners had reason to believe that any move by the army would result in a dictatorship that would last nearly two decades.
The Egyptian Armed Forces have a very different relationship to the government and since 1952 have been intimately connected to the sinews of the state if they did not in fact constitute them. Until the election of Mohammad Morsi all Egyptian presidents had come from one or another branch of the Armed Forces; generals and former generals served as provincial governors, government ministers, and at the head of state-owned economic enterprises. The armed forces have been an autonomous administration within the larger state and the 2012 constitution formalized that relationship by requiring that the Minister of Defense be a general rather than a civilian and by removing the Army’s budget from significant legislative oversight. For the first time in Egyptian history the army hierarchy itself came to power in a coup against former President Hosny Mubarak in February 2011 and assumed the country’s executive and legislative authority until at least mid-2012 when it relinquished both authorities to elected civilians. In August 2012 Morsi retired the two key military leaders who had ousted Mubarak, Mohammad Tantawi and Sami Anan, and chose Abdelfattah Al-Sisi as the new Chief of Staff and Minister of Defense.
It is no secret that since 1954 Egyptian governments and the Armed Forces have tried many times to destroy the Muslim Brothers. Morsi thus faced an officers’ corps with no particular commitment to constitutional government and with a deep distaste for his politics. Despite much wishful thinking by observers outside the army, it has also shown no inclination to split in the face of popular unrest. It is difficult to know whether Morsi truly thought he had neutralized the Armed Forces but if he did it was, given their previous 60 years, a colossal mis-reading of the situation.
What of the political context of the periods during which Allende and Morsi held office? This is where the similarities may be greatest but where crucial differences also become most apparent. Lacking control of the legislature and attempting to change the structure of property rights in favor of tenants, workers, and the impoverished, Allende and the UP resorted to rule by decree and refused to implement countervailing court orders based on the existing laws. Allende thus found himself increasingly in conflict with the judiciary and the Supreme Court. Although the Chilean Supreme Court is far less powerful than its Egyptian counterpart, the justices engaged in a public dispute with Allende including an exchange of letters accusing him of undermining the rule of law. Congress had been in the hands of his opposition since 1970 and the 1973 elections did not materially change the political balance of forces. Mass demonstrations against Allende to influence a legislature already hostile to him were unnecessary. On August 22, 1973 a majority of the lower house voted to ask the military to intervene and overthrow the Allende government.
The UP’s attempt to re-shape the Chilean economy had important repercussions especially in a country that had long suffered from high levels of inflation and rigidly separate labor markets and whose balance of payments depended on the export of a single commodity. The decline of copper prices diminished the government’s income during Allende’s presidency and the ensuing lack of foreign currency made imports, including food, scarce and expensive. Workers in the formal sector, especially mining and processing, had won some significant wage increases. Price-fixing and rationing, especially the role of the Price and Supply Boards, worsened the situation rather than ameliorating it. This in turn helped to re-create inflationary pressure that reached at least 140% a year in 1972 whereas measured Egyptian inflation appears to be on the order of 12 %. Much is made of the depreciation of the Egyptian (from about 5 to the US dollar in 2010 to somewhat over 7 today,), a drop of about 30%. In the equivalent period of Allende’s presidency the escudo dropped from 20 to the dollar to 3000. Unhappy as Egyptians have been with the worsening economic situation over the past year it is hard to imagine how the country would have reacted to the vaporization of the currency that Chile experienced which would have rendered the central bank’s foreign reserves worthless long before they were spent.
Nationalizations included firms driven out of business by worsening economic problems and this made investors increasingly skittish. Consequently the population suffered from increasing shortages of consumer goods and rising prices that affected the poor as well as the wealthy. Strikes and lock-outs also affected production and a strike by truck-owners, many of whom were impoverished, with both political and economic goals dislocated commerce. Allende’s opponents viewed the repression of the truckers’ strike (deemed economic sabotage by the UP government) as a violation of his pledge to respect the constitution. One crucial difference between the strikes during the Allende period and widespread strikes in Egypt over the last two and a half years is that neither the Army nor the Muslim Brotherhood used its regulatory authority to win the support of striking workers against owners or to extend the role of state ownership or control. The strikes by associations known as gremios were for economic ends but they also had an anti-trade union edge. Unsurprisingly the Chilean trade union movement (CUT) strongly supported Allende, opposed the gremios, and in turn received significant support from the UP government.
In Egypt the nature of the revolutionary upsurge itself affected several key industries, notably tourism an important employment sector and a source of foreign currency. Egypt is often called a rentier state but unlike Chile in the 1970s it has several streams of foreign income. Remittances and Suez Canal receipts are other important sources of foreign currency although Canal passages declined somewhat in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008. Egypt ceased being an oil exporter in 2007. Foreign exchange is crucial for a country that imports about half the wheat it consumes. There were longstanding shortages of butane gas (crucial for cooking and heating among lower income groups), gasoline (crucial for transport), diesel and electricity. From late 2011 on there were frequently long lines at gas stations, rolling blackouts, and insufficient diesel for a variety of urban and agricultural production. The Egyptian trade union movement has long been under the control of the state but has been challenged by wildcat strikes and independent union movements. Its independent leadership resisted any alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood and its formal organization is in disarray. To the degree that voting in the industrial cities of the Delta over the past three years is any indication it would be difficult to say that there is any coherent majority organizationally or politically with the industrial workforce.
Allende, certainly a secular politician if not necessarily a liberal, faced significant opposition from devout Catholics and the church hierarchy. In March 1973, the UP government announced plans to reform the educational system (K-12), the so-called National Unified School curriculum (ENU). Perhaps the biggest problem for Allende was that the ENU called for educating students in the values of “socialist humanism” which the Church found offensive and which provoked sufficiently significant opposition to force Allende to temporize (but not withdraw) the proposal. Morsi was obviously not committed to a secular program in education or anywhere else nor was he committed to overhauling the Egyptian educational system. He and the Muslim Brotherhood evoked opposition from the mainstream religious establishment represented by the Mufti of the Republic or the Shaykh of Al-Azhar.
Internationally, however, the two leaders faced different situations with the United States. US policy makers increasingly wanted to see Allende ousted both because they feared the emergence of a socialist government on the Latin American continent and because the Hickenlooper Amendment formally committed the US to oppose governments that nationalized foreign property with insufficient compensation. It would be wrong to say that the US supported Morsi as such but the US appears to have been committed to Morsi’s presidency as a step toward democratization and initially sought, albeit halfheartedly, for his return as the legitimate holder of the office.
To sum up, by the weeks before the respective coups Morsi and Allende faced widespread public opposition that may have accounted for a majority of the population. This opposition had also taken the form of street fighting and the increasing possibility of violent confrontations. They also both faced significant opposition from significant state institutions, notably the judiciary and the military. They both faced a rapidly deteriorating economic situation.
Allende’s opposition had two primary roots. One lay in opposition to his project for socialist transformation. The US, Chilean private enterprise, landowners, the Catholic Church, sections of the Armed Forces, and multinational firms all opposed the policies that aimed at a Chilean transition to socialism for reasons of material interest, ideology, or principle. In addition there was significant opposition to the Allende government because of the economic and social disruption the projected socialist transformation caused. Allende and the UP may have expected to win over Chile’s working class and the poor as the socialist transformation went forward, but the real process of implementing the outlines of socialism alienated many Chileans.
Before addressing the nature of the opposition to Morsi it is worth noticing that his project, unlike Allende’s, was vague at best and contradictory at worst. The US government and many specialists have analyzed the events of the last two years as a process of democratization. Was this, however, the way that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party looked at events? Morsi and MB/FJP appear to have been of two minds about the process in which they were engaged. It has never been clear if they saw themselves as a party committed to democratic transition or to the revolutionary re-structuring of the state and politics. The clearest way to understand the difference is to look at how the Morsi government sought to deal with the so-called feloul or remnants of the old regime. Morsi tried by decree to deny political rights to members, especially from the leadership, of the dissolved National Democratic party. When this failed by order of the Supreme Court it was written into the new constitution. It is easy enough to understand why a revolutionary party wants to proscribe leaders of the old order, but it is less easy to see why a democratizing party wishes to do so especially when the existing law limits the political rights of anyone convicted of criminal acts. Acute as the political polarization in Chile was it never occurred to the UP, despite its formal commitment to revolutionary social and economic change, to strip the members of opposition parties of the right to run for office.
Morsi also clearly faced at least two distinct strands of opposition. There were those who opposed him on principle or and those who feared him but before the late fall of 2012 neither expressed the kind of implacable hatred that characterized Allende’s opposition. To the contrary, a significant number of his opponents conceded his electoral legitimacy. Certainly the Christian communities were uncomfortable with Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood from the beginning as were trade union leaders who refused as early as 2011 the idea of an MB-oriented union movement. He was also opposed by sections of the Armed Forces and probably most of the police. Religious minorities and trade unions, however, play a much smaller role in Egypt than in Chile and the police and armed forces had, by early 2012 lost popular support. However, as the economy began to deteriorate through 2012 and into 2013 and as street violence became more pronounced opposition to Morsi clearly grew. Official Islam in the guise of the Azhar, which like the Catholic hierarchy in Chile commands broad respect, became increasingly hostile as did broader sections of the population, the press, and local communities and groups of soccer fans (whose networks and institutions have played a significant role in mobilizing Egyptians over the past year).
In Egypt, unlike Chile where disagreement with Allende was expressed by an elected legislature, popular discontent with the Morsi presidency manifested itself in a petition campaign and massive demonstrations. Egyptian constitutions since 1923 have guaranteed the people the right to assemble peacefully. Western liberals in the wake of the coup seem to have decided that the Egyptian people were wrong to demonstrate or at least to demonstrate in such large numbers while making demands that not only contravened a constitutional whose ink had barely dried but which invited the Armed Forces to intervene again in the political process. This is not a question germane to this discussion but clearly the generals in both countries acted on their own judgment. It expects too much, I think, to believe that masses of people will use their rights not only to express their beliefs but with the kind of unrealistically sophisticated prudential or moral judgment required by theoreticians of rationality or moral philosophy.
Comparing Egypt and Chile in the wake of their respective coups brings us to what political scientists like to call a “puzzle.” To grasp the nature of this puzzle it is necessary first to do something few people want to do: accept the not all violence is the same. It can be deployed in different ways for different ends. Thousands of people were killed both in Egypt and in Chile after the coups but the nature of the violence and, at least in the short term, its political implications are different. This is not to say that one is acceptable or excusable. It is simply to recognize that there is a profound difference in how the major institutions associated with organized violence, the army and police, have deployed it and the political implications of its use. This is important if any form of constitutional democracy is to be restored to Egypt.
I have insisted on what distinguishes Chile from Egypt in order to make a fundamental point. In Chile the Armed Forces took power during a period of severe economic and political upheaval from a weakened president who had never had a clear electoral mandate or much institutional support. Internal and external agents re-shaped the Chilean Armed Forces by violence and argument to make them the instrument for a coup, thereby vitiating Chile’s significant history of constitutional democracy.
The Egyptian Armed Forces have taken power twice in the past three years as the country has experienced the initial phases of economic and political breakdown. They did so most recently from a president with an electoral mandate and a friendly legislature, but they also did so as an Army that was no stranger to intervening in the affairs of government. There was no need to re-shape the Army itself in order for it to remove a fragile constitutional government but the second time around the Armed Forces have so far chosen, unlike 2011 and unlike in Chile, not to rule directly. General Abdelfattah al-Sisi may be the big man in the government but he is not the president and the decisions of the government are at least formally made by the government rather than by a junta acting as the government (as was also the case during the period in which the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ruled Egypt in 2011-12).
If we look at the way in which the two armies deployed violence there is one important difference: in Chile violence was used to overturn established institutions of constitutional democracy and to uproot the entire set of political parties from the center Christian Democrats to the extreme left MIR. Acts of violence included mass arrests, summary executions (“disappearances”), the proscription of parties, the dissolution of parliament (where Allende’s opponents had a majority), and the prohibition of demonstrations. Pinochet, in short, not only repressed Allende and his allies but his enemies as well.
In Egypt Morsi was already under the control (“protection”) of the Armed Forces when the coup occurred. The coup itself, in the midst of massive anti-Morsi demonstrations, was (unlike Pinochet’s attack on La Moneda) peaceful. The military and the police have used overwhelming and arguably criminal violence to disperse the large sit-ins supporting Morsi (early July and again in August) and killed more than a thousand people. Most, but not all, of the top leadership of the Muslim Brothers organization is under arrest but the organization itself has not yet been dissolved although the government is taking steps in that direction. The armed forces dissolved the legislature. They have not so far attacked many of Morsi’s political allies or his enemies. The Salafi parties have, for example, continued to function as does the Freedom and Justice party which has chosen new leadership and continues to call for and lead demonstrations. Without minimizing the terrible violence used to disperse the demonstrations in Cairo or apologizing for it, it is nevertheless true that a significant fraction of the Islamist section of the political spectrum continues to function. This was simply not true of the equivalent parties and leaders in Chile in 1973.
What is puzzling is why the violence of the armed forces in these two situations is, at least initially, so different. Why did the Pinochet regime deploy violence against wide sections of Chilean society including the centrist political elite when it was clear that a majority of Chileans and that elite, through their votes and political affiliations, rejected the Allende presidency? There is every reason to think that a majority of the legislature and the Supreme Court would have agreed on a decision by the Armed Forces to hold new elections and that a candidate from the Christian Democrats or the Conservatives would have won (as they had the two free elections before 1970). Why have the Egyptian Armed Forces not deployed such violence against wide sections of Egyptian society and the political elite given that Morsi (unlike Allende) had won a majority in the presidential election and that his party had a majority in the legislature? Why have, in contradistinction to Chile, parties more radical than the MB (the Salafi Nour party in particular) been allowed to remain in existence and why have some members of the Freedom and Justice party (the political arm of the MB) been allowed to remain free, and why have (for the moment at least) human rights groups been allowed to function? Not long ago Ziad Bahaa al-Din, the Deputy Prime Minister for the economy, proposed a truce between the government and the FJP. None of Pinochet’s ministers proposed such a truce with the UP and had any of them done so they would have been immediately retired if not imprisoned or perhaps executed. Additionally why is the new government so intent on re-writing the constitution rather than simply ruling by decree as the Pinochet government did for seven years?
One answer might be that the Egyptian Armed Forces are kinder and gentler than the Chilean Armed Forces. The repeated use of violence against massed protesters makes this unlikely although it does not answer the question of why there was no immediate move to attack the sit-ins. The Egyptian high command may be more interested in creating a civilian government than was Pinochet because they may prefer a role in which their power derives as much from balancing between contending parties as from the use of violence.
Another possibility is that the Egyptian generals are more cunning than their Latin American counterparts in the 1970s. Where generals in Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile wiped out elected governments and ruled directly, the Egyptian generals understand the need for an intermediary. Whether they are inherently so or simply learned during the experience of direct rule by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces they have a more complex strategy which relieves them of the need to deploy the high levels of constant force deploy in Chile.
It may also be that the Egyptian Armed Forces simply lack the capacity for the level of repression Chile experienced. The Egyptian Armed Forces are proportionately smaller than their Chilean equivalent. Pinochet commanded about 65,000 men for a population of not quite ten million; Sisi’s Egypt has nine times the population but only seven times as large an army. Unlike Pinochet, Sisi’s armed forces are necessarily deployed in a border area (Sinai) as well as in the population centers. Thus, General Sisi may not have the necessary force at his disposal to engage in the level of repression that characterized the Pinochet regime. Or perhaps, as is frequently asserted, the Egyptian armed forces are simply incompetent as is the state apparatus more generally. It is an army that has not fought a war since 1973 (although the Chilean Armed Forces had not fought a war since in the 69 years preceding the coup) and has extensive domestic interests. Fighting more frequent wars does not seem, however, to be in the interests of the Egyptian people nor is it clear that more frequent wars would be a key to more democracy. Generally speaking the reverse is true: war has been the pathway through which dictatorship was consolidated in the French, Russian, and Iranian revolutions.
Sisi, unlike Pinochet, also faces significant American opposition to the new government. The US government today views some Islamist movements as potential partners in the project of democratization where the US government of 40 years ago viewed communists and socialists alike as revolutionary enemies. This shift in US strategy under President Obama, echoed in part by Republican Senators McCain and Graham during a visit to Egypt in early August, may have an impact comparable over time to the US preference for military leaders as modernizers in the 1950s.
There is at least one other, more surprising possibility: the more unsettled revolutionary nature of the situation in Egypt. Wiping out the threat of socialism or even social reform in Chile required more than simply decapitating the one party whose candidate had become president. It required a much broader assault on the organized social forces that supported him. In Egypt there was no similar coalition of parties and organizations whose program was both clear and yet transcended the presence of a single party at the center of government. Consequently in Egypt the Armed only wishes to uproot one party but not necessarily to destroy institutions of governance with which it has itself has long been intimately associated.
Unlike Morsi and his presidential election, neither Allende nor his coalition was inexperienced in Chilean electoral politics. He had first run for the presidency in 1952 and won 5.5 % of the vote; in 1958, running against Alessandri, he was in second place with 28 % of the vote; in 1964, against Eduardo Frei he had amassed nearly 39 %. He had been a minister in a Popular Front government in 1938 and an elected senator since the 1940s. He was not only a founder of the Chilean Socialist party, on whose ticket he ran, but one of the authors of the politics of an electoral (Chilean) path to socialism. The revolution in Chile was, unlike Cuba or Nicaragua, electoral politics. In Egypt, by contrast, Morsi’s electoral victory was the fortuitous result of a revolutionary upheaval in which millions of people took to the streets.
It was neither the expected result of a long-term electoral strategy within a constitutional and democratic order nor was it the result of an armed struggle against the old regime. This verges on the problem of revolution which also outside the scope of this discussion. Suffice it to say that if by revolution we mean the entry of masses of people into action in unexpected ways that break down the old ways of organizing politics then Egypt has been in revolution for the last three years. If by revolution we mean the creation of a new order, preferably in some Utopian mold, then Egypt has certainly not.
The problem is less that the MB were unprepared to govern as that they seem to have had no very clear idea of what they wanted to govern for: was it the revolutionary re-structuring of the political order and the seizure of power or was it the consolidation of democracy? Did they want to dismantle and re-make the existing institutions of governance or did they simply want to share in the spoils? To what degree were they interested in punishing and excluding the old regime and to what degree were they interested in including its supporters?
Chile’s politics were far more organized than Egypt’s but they were not accompanied by the kind of massive spontaneous upwelling of support that has characterized Egypt in the past two years. Several Allende policies were extensions Frei government. Allende’s policies neither extended nor weakened his electoral base significantly, but they did expand the power and influence of the institutions and organizations in his electoral coalition, especially the Communists, the Socialists, the MIR, and the Chilean trade union movement. They also attracted some support in other organizations and mobilized a few new social groups, especially in the countryside. Paradoxically in the absence of Allende himself there was every possibility that not only the left parties but the centrist parties would attempt to pursue the policies of the UP after this ouster. The use of violence against even those, such as the legislature and its Christian Democrat majority, was testimony to the military’s desire for a clean slate. There is no reason to believe the Egyptian Armed Forces want a clean slate or desire to pursue their own Utopian fantasy as dictated by Chicago-trained economists.
It is only an apparent paradox that the Egyptian military has used more violence but in a far more focused fashion than their Chilean counterparts. Uncertain of their own goals, the Muslim Brothers rode the wave of a massive uprising. They were therefore propelled by it to as great a degree as they were able to shape it. Dispersing the demonstrations at successive locations in Cairo (the Republican Guards Club, Raba’a al-Adawiya, and Nahdah Squares) and arresting most (but not all) of the MB leadership has thus dislocated the adversaries of the Armed Forces’ preferred order. There is no need, for the moment, to extend the overt repression to other organizations or institutions. In fact, there is every reason to avoid anything that might evoke renewed spontaneous demonstrations.
There are two other important differences between Chile and Egypt: the relative independence of the Egyptian judiciary. While this independence may depend in part of corruption and nepotism, it is also real in the sense that the judiciary has guarded as best it could its own institutional and social field from the other institutions of the state. In comparison to the Chilean judiciary the Egyptian courts have a history of using their authority against the legislative and executive branches. The rush to re-write a constitution can be best explained if the judiciary is itself a partner, through the Supreme Court, in the re-making of the state. The courts do not need to be exemplars of justice or paragons of Weberian rationality to pursue their own institutional ends and thereby limit, even if only to a degree, the authority of the army and the executive.
The other profound difference is the emergence of at least one area of opposition to the coup based not only on geography but religion. Upper Egypt has emerged as an area in which the control by the central government has become highly contested and on occasion disappeared. This loss of control is connected to the mobilization of both anti-Christian and anti-regime sentiments. This too is unlike Chile where the MIR, the Communists and the Socialists were never able to create zones in which the power of the government ceased to exist for days or weeks at a time. Even had they created “liberated zones” in the terminology of the day those would not have been based on any claim of religious (or ethnic) community. The success of this form of mobilization especially in communities such as Dalga where several churches and a monastery were looted and destroyed, Christians killed, and where Christians were reportedly required to pay ransom as well as the sectarian-tinged murder of members of the Social Democratic party in Asyut are a dark underside to the claims of supporters of President Morsi that they only desire the return of constitutional governance. Rightly or wrongly, it is precisely this kind of unrestrained social violence that many of Morsi’s opponents feared would occur if his presidency continued.
The remaining question is what happens next. As in Chile in 1973 there will be those who wish to oppose the armed forces and what Karl Marx would have called the party of order with violence. Attacks on police stations and the attempt to assassinate the Interior Minister are examples. In Chile, as in most places, these actions—even if they accomplish their immediate goals—are almost never successful as forms of political organization. Throughout a long history in which they have been variously called exemplary acts, focos, terrorism, or armed struggle they have almost invariably demobilized mass movements, given the state an excuse for further violence, and ended in disaster and tragedy. Egypt may, of course, be an exception but it is not very likely.
The MB and its political allies will also face some difficult political choices and it is worth reflecting on the experience of Chile, different as it was. In the wake of the coup, it took a long time for Pinochet’s opponents to develop a workable and coherent strategy. In the end it was a decision that recognized that the Allende experience would never be revived nor would the 1925 constitution and that the only path forward was the construction of a new Chilean democracy rather than a revolutionary re-structuring of society.
For Chile’s left-wing socialists, the MIR and the communists this was a bitter defeat and they have never recovered anything like the place in Chile’s political life that they held on September 10, 1973. The communists have essentially disappeared from Chile’s political life as has the left-wing of the Socialist party once embodied in leaders such as Clodomiro Almeyda and the Revolution Left Movement (MIR) is also only a shadow of its former self. It would once have been self-evident that the Marxist left in Chile, like the Muslim Brotherhood today in Egypt, could not be eliminated from public life. It was, many would have said, too deeply implanted in the society and too deeply rooted in the unions and working class communities. This turned out not to be the case but what is also true is that there were other avenues for unions, working class communities, and political leaders to struggle for social justice and the immediate demands connected to it. The MB may turn out not to be the only way to imagine a link between Islam and politics and their brand of Islamism may turn out, like Communism, to be a real but historically delimited political movement.
Michelle Bachelet, a socialist, was elected president of Chile in 2006 and served until 2010. She was the daughter of Air Force Brigadier Alberto Bachelet (another military opponent of the coup) who died after being tortured by the Pinochet regime in 1974. But she was not the first president elected after the fall of the Pinochet regime. That was Patricio Aylwin, a Christian Democratic member of the legislature in 1973 who had voted on the resolution asking the Armed Forces to step in. Aylwin came to regret his stance and his candidacy was backed by Ricardo Lagos, leader of the Socialists and of the Democratic Alliance, and himself later president. Lagos emergence as the leader of the Chilean Socialist party was also testimony to how much the party had changed since the years when Allende, Almeyda, and Toha had been its leaders. Lagos, an international civil servant with a degree in political science from Duke University, is known for his work on unemployment policies rather than his desire to expropriate the means of production. He is most famous for the “Lagos finger” when he pointed at Pinochet in a television debate and called him a liar and torturer. But he did not bring Pinochet to justice and he served in Aylwin’s cabinet.
For Egyptians of all political persuasions, this may be the most bitter political reality of any comparison of Pinochet’s Chile with events in their own country today. In the wake of Mubarak’s downfall there was a long debate about how slowly the wheels of production were turning and how impatient Egyptians had become. Unfortunately the wheels of justice will not turn any more quickly along the road to democracy.