Entries in Revolution (4)


Can Egypt Learn from Latin America's Revolutions?

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images(CAIRO) -- On Wednesday, the Egyptian army overthrew Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president, in response to nearly a week of violent protests and social unrest. Egyptian defense minister Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi announced that the military would temporarily suspend the constitution and prepare new parliamentary elections.

Shortly after, fireworks erupted over Cairo's Tahrir Square. Crowds cheered the military’s road map, and liberal opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei -- a Nobel Peace Prize recipient -- called the event a new stage in the Arab Spring, the 2011 revolution that led to the ouster of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Dozens of countries throughout history have experienced military takeovers. In Latin America, the story is fairly common: There were at least 30 coup d’état attempts, 22 of them successful, in the region from 1945 to 1976. It’s a story that (despite big political, social and historical differences) can offer several valuable lessons.

Obviously, there are significant differences between what happened in Latin America during the second half of the 20th century and what happened recently in Egypt. For one thing, religion did not play as central a role in Latin America's revolutions as it has in Egypt. The Hispanic world's chief rallying cries related to social and economic issues influenced by Marxism, and, later, by the Cuban revolution. In Egypt, meanwhile, the religious element -- exemplified by some of the policies of the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi’s party -- is an important source of discontent that, is now pitting liberals against democrats.

Nevertheless, the army’s actions and the celebratory remarks that ensued from intellectuals like ElBaradei can be related to certain events in Latin America history.

“I think that in certain political moments, it can seem like an easy solution for a military institution to step in,” said Kirsten Weld, a Harvard professor who specializes in modern Latin American history. “But I don’t think that there are easy answers to the kinds of political divisions that you see in contemporary Egypt today, or to those that you saw in Chile in the early 1970s, or in Argentina in the mid-1970s.”

In 1973, right-wing and middle-class Chileans rejoiced at Salvador Allende’s death and the ascent to power of General Augusto Pinochet. (“This is a time of triumph and joy,” a truck-owner told the New York Times in the days following the coup.) In Argentina, in 1976, Jorge Luis Borges, the great Argentinian writer, welcomed the new military junta that deposed Isabel Martínez de Perón as a “gentlemen’s government.”

Years later, most of those who had hailed military intervention recanted their words and looked back at what happened with shame. More than 3,000 people were killed or disappeared under Pinochet’s regime, and the Chilean government in 2011 acknowledged the claims of more than 40,000 victims. In Argentina, the “gentlemen’s government” kidnapped children and pregnant women, and disappeared nearly 30,000 people, according to human rights organizations.

By 1980, Borges had already realized his mistake. “I find it impossible to ignore the grave existing problems related to terrorism and repression,” Borges told La Prensa. “Nothing will prevent me from speaking about those deaths and disappearances.”

 In both cases -- and in most of the Latin American coups -- military autonomy led to human rights violations that have a cast shadow over the region’s history.

“After a coup, the army doesn’t have any accountability,” said James Green, a professor of history and Brazilian culture at Brown University. “And that’s the danger: there is no reason to think that the military won’t do terrible things in Egypt now, much like they did in Brazil and in other Latin American countries.”

Without any checks or balances in place, military juntas in Latin America usually tried to solve the country’s issues by aggressively targeting groups they considered responsible for social unrest. In places like Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, Guatemala, and Peru the military’s solutions often involved disappearances, torture and murder.

“History shows time and time again that what the military does when they are in control is far from what is in the best interest of large parts of the population,” Weld said. “If you end up being part of the segment of the population that the military feels is part of the problem, then you might be targeted for extermination.”

There is no reason to assume that this will happen in Egypt. There, the army has set forth a road map for new elections, it has named the nation's chief justice interim president, and is reportedly favoring ElBaradei, a respected intellectual, as the leader of a transitional government.

Nonetheless, it’s hard to forget that the army is ousting a democratically elected leader to supposedly promote democracy.

Morsi, who denounced the takeover as a military coup and rejected the army’s demands, was taken into custody on Wednesday, along with several of his aides.

People living in rural areas, the Muslim Brotherhood’s main electorate, have already expressed their concern over the event, and some are predicting a civil war.

More than two dozen people have been killed since Sunday, and on Wednesday hundreds were injured during protests and clashes with security forces.

As Green puts it, “You are playing with fire if you are using the military to establish a democracy.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Nervous Chinese Authorities Crack Down on Sale of Jasmine Flowers

Maria Mosolova/Getty Images(BEIJING) -- It's an icon of Chinese heritage, the subject of many traditional poems and songs, the central ingredient of the country’s favorite tea. But with fear of revolution blossoming in China, authorities are cracking hard down on in, the actual flower.

At the Sunhe Beidong Flower Market in Beijing, florist Liu Wei told ABC News that the police had visited vendors in March, asking them not to sell jasmine to people in bulk. She said that the police ordered them to tell anyone who wanted to buy a large quantity of the flower that it was out of stock and to ask for their name and contact information so as to contact the buyer when it was in stock.

Since that meeting jasmine prices have tumbled 40 percent on last year, at least in part because of the ban. Other vendors at the market confirmed what Liu said about the meeting.

It has been three months since anonymous calls for a jasmine revolution in China first appeared online. Though few protesters turned up at the called-for demonstrations, Chinese authorities cracked down hard, nervous in the wake of pro-democracy revolutions across the Middle East.

Since February, more than 40 activists and dissidents have disappeared or have been put under house arrest. So-called "house churches," churches that are not state-sanctioned, have been raided and their members detained. And foreign journalists have been harassed, with stringent rules limiting the scope of their reporting.

Even video of President Hu Jintao singing the classic Chinese folk song "mo li hua," an ode to the jasmine flower, during a visit to Kenya has been taken off the internet.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Libya Declares Immediate Ceasefire Following UN Vote

ABC News(TRIPOLI, Libya) -- Libya’s foreign minister declared a ceasefire on Friday, just hours after the United Nations Security Council approved a resolution that authorized the international community to take "all necessary measures" short of sending in ground troops, to protect civilians in Libya.

The UN’s vote on Thursday came just as Col. Moammar Gadhafi said his forces were planning a major offensive on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

The council voted 10-0 with five abstentions, including Russia and China.

With attacks likely imminent, Gadhafi warned rebels Thursday, "We will find you."

"We are coming tonight," he said. "There won't be any mercy."

The resolution also authorized the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya as a way to protect the opposition fighters and civilians from Gadhafi's jets.

Following the vote, Col. Gadhafi’s son, Saif Gadhafi, spoke to ABC News, calling the resolution "unfair because, as you know, from the beginning we told to everybody there were no air strikes against civilians, no bombing of civilian districts or demonstrations.  And thousands of those reports showed they were false."

“You are not helping to the people if you are going to bomb Libya, to kill Libyans," Gadhafi told ABC’s Christiane Amanpour.

“We have to be very careful.  This is a trick,” said Ali Sulaiman Aujali, the former Libyan ambassador to the U.S. who has sided with anti-Gadhafi forces, at a press conference Friday.  “[Col. Gadhafi] will commend the resolution, but in the same time, he’s invading Misratah, he’s killing the people, he’s moving his arms from to strategic points.  You have to be very careful.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Libya: The American Who Died for the Revolution

Moammar Gadhafi. Ernesto Ruscio/Getty ImagesREPORTER’S NOTEBOOK

(TOBRUK, Libya) -- Muhannad Bensadik didn't have to be here. He could have been at home, in Virginia. He could have been going to school, leading his scout team and living with his mother and his four siblings, all younger and all but one born in the United States.

But Bensadik, 21, decided to stay in Libya -- where he had recently moved -- as the revolution exploded throughout this country and millions of people who've lived under fear and tyranny for 42 years suddenly tasted freedom.

He protested the regime on Feb. 16 and braved walls of bullets during the initial crackdown. He lived to celebrate the expulsion of Col. Moammar Gadhafi's government in eastern Libya. And, then, as Gadhafi's troops advanced, he grabbed a gun and joined the fight.

"Dad, we're not cowards," he told his father, Libya-born Osama Bensadik. "I can go to the States and can have everything. But how about the kids here? They don't have the opportunity to do that.

"Libya is as much my country as the United States is. And we'd like to make sure that this revolution goes through. If everyone leaves, who's going to lead the revolution?"

Muhannad Bensadik died Saturday for that revolution, apparently shot to death by Gadhafi's troops in the tiny town of Bishir.

His body still lies on the frontline of this war, about 7,000 miles from his birthplace of Eden, N.C., and his father is trying to retrieve it. He doesn't know if it will be safe enough to reach Bishir, and he doesn't know how far he'll get. But he says he has to try.

"The sad part about this story is that my son had the opportunity not to come to Benghazi," Bensadik said today in Benghazi, the opposition stronghold, where he flew after the revolution began because he knew his son would want to fight.

He didn't want his son to fight alone.

"The American revolutionary Patrick Henry, he said, 'Give me my freedom or give me my death,'" Bensadik said, crying over the phone. "And that's how my son lived."

Life under Gadhafi, Bensadik said, was "inhuman," and the whole family opposed him. Muhannad Bensadik's younger brother, Yusuf, is still in Benghazi, working with the struggling opposition government.

It's a fight that Osama will continue, even as he tries to send his son's body back to his wife in Virginia.

"I'm going to go back to the battlefield as soon as I can. I will not allow my son's blood to go in vain," he says. "Two people going together; one dies, then the other one picks up. That's how the revolution keeps going. There's no U-turn now."

Like almost everyone here, Bensadik has a direct request for the United States: institute a no-fly zone and give the opposition a fighting chance.

"If there's no no-fly zone," he warns, "then Gadhafi won't distinguish between people, won't spare hospitals or anyone. He said he will go house by house, and we all know he will. It will be a massacre."

And so the father will continue to fight as his son did, bravely, and knowing the risks.

"Gadhafi will never return. His rule will never happen again. I promise you myself. Even," he says, pausing, "if I have to die like my son."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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