Egypt: All coups end in petty tyranny, however good the intentions

Daniel Hannan writes: When I was four years old, a mob attacked our family farm. A crowd of men lit tyres and set them against our front gates, intending to burn their way in.

My mother took me by hand to the back entrance, a footpath leading into the hills. “We’re going to play a game,” she told me. “If we have to come this way again, we must do it without making a sound.”

My father was having none of it. He had an obligation to the farm workers, he said, and he wasn’t going to be pushed off his land by hooligans bussed in from the city. He was suffering, I remember, from one of those diseases that chronically afflict white men in the tropics, and he sat in his dressing gown loading his revolver with paper-thin hands. In the end, security guards managed to disperse the crowd with shots and, for us at least, the danger passed. Others were not so lucky: there were land invasions and confiscations all over the country.

This was Peru in the early 1970s, a country reduced to chaos and penury by the military government of General Juan Velasco, whose putsch, inevitably, ended up exacerbating all the problems that had justified it in the first place.

There is no such thing as a good coup, only bad coups and worse coups. All military regimes, in time, become tawdry and self-serving. Whatever intentions the army officers begin with, they end up as petty tyrants. An elected ruler is kept in check by the knowledge that he can be fired. Take that knowledge away and, however pure his motives, he will end up arranging the affairs of state around his personal convenience.

No doubt Velasco – who inspired Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez – genuinely thought he was standing up for the downtrodden masses against the oligarchs. No doubt, from the opposite end of the spectrum in neighbouring Chile, Augusto Pinochet genuinely thought he was saving his country from Communist meltdown. In both cases, there was a smidgen of truth in their self-justification. But, over time, both men became autocrats, repressing dissent and enriching themselves at state expense.

Ah, you say, but what if the alternative is even worse? Such is the justification used by every military regime in history, going back to Bonaparte, to Cromwell, to Sulla. It is being trotted out now to justify the dictatorship in Egypt, both by Western sophists and by local liberals who, having spent the Mubarak years demanding democracy, suddenly fear it. [Continue reading…]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email