Coups and junta rule must be condemned

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The Egyptian army is wholly responsible for causing the crisis in Egypt, and any junta rule, whether by puppets or directly, is doomed to fail, warns Tommy Thomas.

General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi announcing the removal of President Mohamed Morsi - Photograph: Wikipedia
General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi announcing the removal of President Mohamed Morsi – Photograph: Wikipedia

One of the fundamental principles which the participants in the Arab Spring fought for was the retreat of armies from political power, and their replacement by properly elected civilian leaders.

Egypt is a prime illustration. Since the coup d’etat in 1952, which resulted in the overthrow of King Farouk by Colonel Nasser, the army has been in power for over 50 years until Mubarak resigned in March 2011.

Morsi was elected as the first non-military president in modern Egyptian history in June 2012, receiving 52 per cent of the popular vote. His was a four-year term, with the next elections scheduled under their new constitution in 2016.

However unpopular Morsi temporarily was — even the most popular president or prime minister suffers temporary periods of unpopularity, but often are re-elected — there is absolutely no justification for the army to carry out a coup d’etat and replace him by force. The army’s true role is in the barracks, and they should remain there permanently.

Post-World War II history is replete with nations securing independence from their colonial masters very quickly falling into the hands of their military. Asian countries emerging from British rule like Pakistan, Burma and Bangladesh have had lengthy spells of army rule.

Among our neighbours, the October 1965 coup which removed President Sukarno from office resulted in at least half a million deaths under General Suharto. Coups are so frequent in Thailand that the military has probably governed longer than civilian politicians.

Corruptly plundered and misruled

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Africa perhaps has the saddest tale. Whether it is Nigeria, Uganda, Congo, Ivory Coast or Libya, the “man on horseback” (to quote the title of a seminal book by a political scientist, Samuel Finer) has brutally and corruptly plundered and misruled. A new term “kleptocrazy” was coined to describe the scale and magnitude of a typical African general’s looting of his nation and the transfer of wealth to Swiss accounts.

Central and South America were not spared either. Almost every nation in these two regions was under brutal military rule, including the leading nations of Brazil and Argentina; in the latter, a “dirty war” conducted by the military included the throwing of thousands of dissidents who were still alive from planes and helicopters into the high seas.

The consequences of General Pinochet’s murderous regime continue to haunt Chile, which, even after 40 years, has not fully recovered from the scars of army rule. Nixon, Kissinger and the CIA were all involved in the conspiracy to eliminate the democratically elected Chilean head, President Allende in 1973. Thereafter, the CIA organized “Operation Condor” in the mid-1970s with right-wing national security agencies in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay (the southern cone of South America) – which resulted in the death of some 60,000 civilians.

Military coups have also occurred in “civilised” Western Europe, which claimed it had proper democracies superior to Soviet-controlled satellite states in Eastern Europe. Yet, in 1966 the Army grabbed power in Greece — the cradle of democracy — and brutally repressed thousands of their citizenry.

Don’t understand democracy

Hence, the universal record of military rule in the second half of the 20th century has been dismal: ultimately, the army just cannot govern.

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This is hardly surprising: it is in the nature of the military, built on command, hierarchy and discipline. Generals and colonels do not understand democracy, the right to opposing views and civil liberty. One has to obey army command; refusal invites being shot at. It is as simple as that.

Further, the military has never come to grips with managing an economy and other pressing requirements of modern state governance. Once in power, they are most reluctant to depart. And even when they leave the political scene, they continue to play the role of ultimate arbiter.

Military rule inevitably breeds massive corruption, and the common person is always bullied and intimidated. It has never proved to be for the public good.

One of the greatest blessings that Malaysia has enjoyed as a nation is civilian supremacy and control over our military. This is a hardly appreciated fact. Never once in our post–Merdeka history was there a real threat that the army would take over.

Even after May 13 (1969), the country was temporarily under the rule of the National Operations Council (NOC), which was always under the control of its director, Tun Razak and his civilian colleagues from the Alliance coalition. The army chief was just one member in the NOC, but in a clear minority.

Malaysians must count their blessings that the army knows its place in national life. Our military forces also seem to take seriously the fact that their Commander-in-Chief is the Yang diPertuan Agong, the Supreme Head of the nation.

Hand of the US?

Returning to Egypt, one can see the hand of the US military behind the army coup; after all, the two armies have enjoyed close relations for over 40 years under Sadat and Mubarak.

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Ever since the Muslim Brotherhood formed the majority in Egypt, wider US geopolitical and strategic interests dictate, particularly with their paranoia of Islam after the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the 9/11 attack in New York, that Egypt was no longer in “safe hands”. Hence, the lack of criticism by the US on the downfall of Morsi.

Indeed, their media has characterised the change of regime as not being a coup or perhaps a “soft coup”. This is intellectual dishonesty and adds insult to injury. From Morsi’s perspective, he has been removed violently from an office to which he was democratically elected; that is a coup, by any definition.

Functioning or participatory democracy caters for both majority and minority interests. A true democracy accommodates wide divergence of interests in national life, and changes take place peacefully, and by consensus.

The great danger in Egypt is that the 52 per cent majority who have seen their democratically elected leader forcibly driven out of office may resort to violence. Civil war may be the outcome.

Parallels exist with Algeria, where an Islamic party had been victorious at the polls in 1992, only for the army to intervene, nullify the elections and take over the government. The result was civilian deaths by the thousands, with the nation still fractured.

Whenever peaceful change is impossible in a society, violent change becomes inevitable. The Egyptian army is wholly responsible for causing this crisis, and any junta rule, whether by puppets or directly, is doomed to fail.

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