Egypt, the Next Chile

museo-front-entranceBY NATHAN BLUMENSHINE

Recently I visited the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, Chile. The exhibits focused primarily on the killings, torture and disappearances perpetrated by the Pinochet military regime during its 16-year rule after overthrowing the Allende government in 1973. As do many monuments memorializing tragedies, I was reminded that we must never allow this sort of thing to happen again.
I found it especially painful how the United States and our foreign business interests supported this military regime. In the 1970s and backed by the votes of Chileans, President Salvador Allende was implementing policies that favored the poor and working class. With violence and fear, the Pinochet government was able to reverse this popular economic system and implement neoliberal economic policies. Leaving the museum I began to wonder, if we must never let something like this happen again, where is it happening right now?
It did not take long to find an answer. The next morning I picked up a Chilean newspaper. Being an avid sports fan I figured I would briefly skim the sports section before reading the ¨real¨ news. It turns out that just before the World Cup begins, Chile will play one game against Egypt … Egypt. In addition to a detailed article about the upcoming soccer game, the El Mercurio newspaper in Santiago also reported on the crisis in Egypt and the predictable victory of coup leader General Al Sisi in the presidential elections.
The many similarities between the Allende-Pinochet and the Morsi-Al Sisi transitions cause me to worry that we have forgotten the instructions of the Museum of Memory and Human Rights to never let something similar happen again. Here are some similarities:
1. Isn’t it interesting that before the coups overthrowing these two democratically-elected and socialist-leaning leaders, strained relations with international economic powers such as the IMF (International Monetary Fund), worsened the economies and stagnated the potential success of socialist economic reforms in both Chile and Egypt?
2. While foreign investment grew in the aftermath of both military coups, Chile´s economy floundered during most of Pinochet´s rule and Egypt is now over $284 billion in debt.
3. Over its 16 year rule the Pinochet government was responsible for around 3,200 deaths, 80,000 internments, 28,000 cases of torture. Since the coup in July, Egypt´s military is responsible for about 3,000 deaths and 41,000 imprisonments. I sadly suspect that similar figures for torture will be available should there be a Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Cairo in 2040.
4. In 1973, Pinochet banned all political parties that supported Allende. President to be Gen. Al Sisi has declared that during his presidency there will be no such thing as the Muslim Brotherhood, the political party of ex-president Morsi. In the recent election, 52% of Egyptians did not vote, even after the voting period was extended an extra day.
5. After his forceful removal of Morsi from power, Al Sisi is attempting to legitimize his power through semi-democratic elections. Pinochet legitimized his presidency in a 1980s vote that ratified his new constitution.
Are neoliberal economic interests responsible for the coup in Egypt as they were in Chile? Many other factors could be mentioned about both Chile and Egypt.  Religion, resource production, geographic location and much more have an impact. Some argue that Chile´s use of neoliberal policies is the cause of its current economic success. They suggest that a military government that enforces the same sort of policies would also eventually spur the Egyptian economy. I note that Chile’s current prosperity could also be fueled by many socialist economic policies, such as state-ownership of a copper company.  Also, Egypt just had 30 years of a military dictatorship under Hosni Mubarak and 20 years of neoliberal leaning economic policies. Why would more of that be an improvement?
Perhaps, I am completely wrong. I am no expert on either Chilean history or current Egyptian news. But we should be paying attention. I do know that—while there were legitimate problems with the Morsi regime—it is wrong for a military group to use violence to change the political and economic choices of the people. My country should not have supported the Pinochet government and it should not be supporting the Al Sisi government.

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