By Dr. Cesar Chelala
Those who don’t believe in miracles should go to Cairo today. Blocks-long gas lines have disappeared, there are no more power cuts, and police are no longer absent from the streets. It is a scene eerily reminiscent of the weeks before Chilean president Salvador Allende was ousted from power. Although the forces behind these phenomena are different, both governments were clearly undermined.
In Chile’s case, national groups whose power was threatened by Allende’s policies worked actively against his presidency. To an important extent, they were encouraged and aided by U.S. government funds. In 2000, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) released thousands of secret documents related to covert operations in Chile before and during the period in which the military ruled the country.
The release of the documents had been ordered in 1999, to allow the public to “judge for itself the extent to which US actions undercut the cause of democracy and human rights in Chile.” According to the records, just three weeks before President Allende was toppled, US officials had approved $1m in covert aid to political parties and private organisations.
In an unusual statement, the White House said at the time: “Actions approved by the US Government during this period aggravated political polarisation and affected Chile’s long tradition of democratic elections and respect for constitutional order and the rule of law.” The US Government actions at the time had a profound negative impact on Chile and the future of democracy in the country.
Although the situation is not the same in today’s Egypt, it is difficult not to conclude that Morsi’s government was doomed from the start, and that those political and economic forces that were threatened by his policies did everything in their power to resist them. Events proved this analysis to be right.
Among the forces behind the events that led to the toppling of President Mohamed Morsi is a wide array of actors, including members of the old establishment, members of the security forces and the judiciary, the media and the military, plus all the civilian groups that felt threatened by Morsi’s authoritarian tendencies. Among all of them, as in Chile’s case, the military reigned supreme. All of them, working in a complementary way, created the conditions that led to the coup.
The sudden improvement of conditions after the coup has convinced Morsi’s supporters that the crisis that preceded the coup had been fabricated. As Naser el-Farash, who was the spokesman for the Ministry of Supply and Internal Trade under Morsi was quoted as saying: “Different circles in the state, from the storage facilities to the cars that transport petrol products to the gas stations, all participated in creating the crisis.”
For Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood a sad fact remains: they had the chance to incorporate the Brotherhood into the normal political process and they squandered it. Morsi was unable to create an atmosphere for reconciliation and economic growth and now it will take a long time for Egypt to start again on the path to economic development and social peace.
Although during his tenure Morsi tried to appease the police, even angering some of his own supporters, they refused to deploy in full, provoking traffic jams and increased insecurity that alienated the people from the government, which they saw as ineffectual and unable to lead. His supporters repeatedly complained that what they call the “deep state,” that is, the real power in the country, was systematically undermining him.
The real challenge for Egypt now is how to prosper in peace in this complex political environment. The US is reluctant to withdraw help to the military, since it believes that is the only way of keeping its influence over them. The Obama administration has indicated that it still intends to deliver four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt, which is part of an earlier agreement to deliver 20 such planes to the country.
However, more than military aid, what Egypt needs now is aid aimed at reactivating the economy and providing people with basic staples such as bread at affordable prices. An unstable Egypt is a threat not only to the country itself but to the whole region.
Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.