Saturday, 6 July 2013

"Staging" a coup

There was an outcry on Twitter yesterday over comments by the Wall Street Journal that "Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile's Augusto Pinochet". I'm not going to go on and on about my reaction to this. It should be obvious from the tone of this blog what I think about it, and it's been done well elsewhere.

Anyway, the BBC News Magazine ran an article this morning comparing the Egyptian coup with that of Pinochet in a rather different way, from the perspective of its staging/theatricality. A coup is, I would suggest, always a carefully-staged public event, often with a fairly long preparation period.

The BBC writes,
There are certain customs, established over many decades, to uphold when declaring a coup.
A rough-hewn general in a crisp uniform reads out a statement on state TV in which he declares that, reluctantly, the armed forces have decided to step in to save the country.[...]
First of all, the general has to get his image right. He needs a well pressed uniform, decked with medals. He needs a podium, or, at the very least, a solid table.
Sunglasses are optional. The general's look as he reads his declaration may become the defining image of his country to the outside world (it will certainly be the image for which he is most remembered by his own people).
The coup statement must follow a certain format. The general should stress that the military is responding to its patriotic duty. Above all, the coup leader must avoid calling his actions a coup - a word which may make him look like a gangster. More often, he will prefer to used the word "intervention". 
 It's true. The "sunglasses" element is of course most iconically represented by general Pinochet:

 Argentina's junta leaders tended to present a show of cooperation:

The military representatives in South America were generally serious, clean-shaven - aside from the neat moustashes sometimes worn - pale-skinned and - so obviously it almost goes unmentioned - always male. They talked about order, security, the eradication of terrorism, Christianity, upholding the family and the (Catholic) Church. Their paternal tenderness was backed up by tanks lining the streets of the capital and the immediate banning of public gatherings.

You can see how General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi's television statement fits into this expected show, this tidying up of the messiness of public display. I hope the Egyptian people are not "lucky" enough to end up with a Pinochet on their hands.

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