Last July 4, the day after the military coup in Egypt that toppled President Mohamed Morsi, the Wall Street Journal editorialized, "Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile's Augusto Pinochet, who took power amid chaos but hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy."
It appears the business newspaper is getting its wish.
The early actions of the de facto leader of the coup, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi are hauntingly like those of Pinochet. The brutal repression, with a civilian death toll surpassing a thousand, the proclamation of a curfew in Egypt's main cities, the jailing and murder of journalists, the unleashing of the security forces, the round up of untold numbers of the opposition, and the demonizing and defamation of its opponents -- these actions and others indicate that the supposed "transition to democracy" could take a long time in Egypt, perhaps even rivaling Pinochet's seventeen years in power.
Pinochet's coup on September 11, 1973, destroyed popular aspirations for a democratic socialist revolution. Today as Adam Shatz notes in Egypt's Counter Revolution, "Cairo, the capital of revolutionary hope two years ago, is now its burial ground."
Both coups and their aftermath horrified much of the world and set the historic clock backwards.
Like Pinochet, al-Sisi often dons dark sunglasses and is seemingly inscrutable as he scowls at the cameras and the public. More importantly al-Sisi is cold and calculating in the mold of Pinochet.
Both generals were appointed ministers of defense by the very civilian presidents they overthrew. Presidents Mohamed Morsi of Egypt and Salvador Allende of Chile thought they could trust their respective defense ministers to hold back the more reactionary sectors in the military. But such was not the case as they conspired with their fellow military officers to carry out the coups.
And once in power, both generals viewed with disdain the civilian forces that had backed their seizures of power.
In Chile, Pinochet turned on the Christian Democratic party, imprisoning rank and file members that dared to question the regime's actions, and attempting to assassinate one of its leaders.
In Egypt, it can be argued that the betrayal runs even deeper as General al-Sisi is turning his back on the entire secular, pro-democratic movement that brought down the regime of Hosni Mubarak in February, 2011, and then mobilized en masse on June 30, 2013 to precipitate the final crisis of the Morsi government.
On August 14 when the army and security forces massacred over 600 civilians, the Nobel Laureate and Interim Vice-President Mohamed ElBaradei, resigned, signaling that the secular democratic forces had no real role in the new government. Days later, ElBaradei was placed under investigation, facing possible charges of "betraying the public trust" for resigning from his post.
With the release of Hosni Mubarak from prison on August 22, Gen. al-Sisi is aligning his government with what is known as the Felool, the remnants of the Mubarak regime that includes the old politicians, business interests, the corrupt judges and Egyptian military officers.
As Christopher Dickey and Mike Giglio point out in an article in the Daily Beast/Newsweek, after the Middle Eastern war of 1973, "The Army where al-Sisi made his career became less a war machine than a rigged slot machine that paid out rich dividends for its loyal officers and its American suppliers. ... They have their own apartments, their own clubs, their own schools and stores. The Army has its own manufacturing empire and a vast construction business that frequently shuts out the private sector with little or no public accountability."
General Pinochet, his family and select associates also built up their own fortunes, but they pale in comparison to the loot accumulated by the military and the Felool.
Both generals had their good and bad patches with the United States.
General Pinochet spent time in the United States, earning an appointment to a military mission to Washington, D.C., in the mid-1950s, and then going on a prolonged tour of the United States in 1959, visiting military bases and institutions. The Nixon administration and the CIA collaborated with him in the 1973 coup but Pinochet's human rights violations compelled President Carter to cut military and economic assistance.
General al-Sisi attended the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania in 2006. This was in the midst of the Iraqi war, when it appeared the United States was losing control of the region. Al-Sisi and other Arab military officers reportedly kept their own council at the college, determined to develop their own positions and policies in the conflict-ridden Middle East.
Last month al-Sisi denounced the Obama administration's early backing of President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, telling The Washington Post on August 3: "You turned your back on the Egyptians, and they won't forget that."
In its call for a Pinochet-like figure to lead Egypt, the Wall Street Journal proclaimed the new military rulers should employ "free market reformers." It is here where the U.S. and al-Sisi along with the Felool may reach common ground again. We can expect little from the Obama administration other than rhetoric and token measures. Sooner rather than later it will work out a modus Vivendi with al-Sisi and go on with business as usual.
In the 2000s the IMF and the World Bank along with the George W. Bush administration worked assiduously with Mubarak to open the country up to international trade and investment. The World Bank in September 2009 named Egypt one of "the world's 10 most active reformers," as it had done in four previous years. Less than eighteen months later, the Mubarak regime fell before a popular uprising.
Al-Sisi is a bloody tyrant bent on holding power indefinitely. Only the forging of a broad coalition of the Muslim Brotherhood and the secular forces that toppled Mubarak can stop the slide into the human tragedy that afflicted Chile for seventeen long dark years under Pinochet.
Roger Burbach is the director of the Center for the Study of the Americas (CENSA) based in Berkeley, CA. He is the co-author with Michael Fox and Federico Fuentes of Latin America's Turbulent Transitions: The Future of Twenty-First-Century Socialism, published by Zed Books. For more on the book see: http://futuresocialism.org