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People Power in the Middle East – Déjà vu

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The people power revolution in Egypt that forced Hosni Mubarak to resign as president reminds me of the 1986 people power revolution – also known as EDSA, the acronym of Epifanio delos Santos Avenue where the people converged – that deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines.  Indeed, the two authoritarian rulers had a lot in common: they plundered their country and caused extreme misery to the people.

The EDSA revolution was where “people power” started.  Three years later, people power revolutions sprouted in Eastern Europe where puppets of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) ruled since the end of World War II.  And like dominoes, they collapsed followed by the disintegration of the colossal USSR when -- one by one – the Soviet republics seceded and declared independence from Mother Russia.  And whatever was left of her was transformed into a democracy patterned after the parliamentary system favored by most western democracies.  

Twenty years later, people power mutated – and mushroomed -- in the Arab world where dissent was dealt harshly by authoritarian regimes controlled by corrupt dictators.

It all began in Tunisia on December 17, 2010 when a female municipal official confiscated the wares of a street vendor, Mohammed Ben Bouazizi.  Humiliated, Bouazizi set himself on fire, which spontaneously sparked demonstrations and riots and spread like wild fire throughout the country. Bouazizi survived from the self-immolation; however, he died from complications on January 4, 2011.

*Déjà vu

Then all hell broke loose! The protestors turned their anger on then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his wife, Leila Trabelsi.  News reports said that the “excesses” of Trabelsi – known as Tunisia’s “Imelda Marcos” – and her family “helped fuel the popular uprising that ended the 23-year rule of her husband.”  “The clan of Trabelsi, a one-time hairdresser who rose to become Tunisia’s most influential woman, was widely despised as the ultimate symbol of corruption and excess,” the report stated.  On January 14, 2011, Ben Ali stepped down from power and the couple an their family fled the country.

And like the people power revolution in the Philippines in 1986, the people power revolution in Tunisia set in motion a people’s movement to oust authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. The autocratic rulers tried to offer concessions; but the time for small concessions was over.  The time for change has come.

After the Tunisian revolution, the Egyptians found the courage to replicate the success of the Tunisians.  On January 25, 2011, barely 11 days after the Tunisian dictator stepped down and coinciding with the Egypt’s National Police Day, tens of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets of Cairo and other cities to demand the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak and an end to corruption.  

On February 11, 2011, after a futile attempt to stay in power, Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military.  To restore order, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces declared martial law to calm down the national mood.  Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi said that the temporary military rule would end when new elections will be held in six months.

The following day, February 12, emboldened by the events in Tunisia and Egypt, hundreds of protesters poured into Algiers, Algeria for a pro-democracy rally.  They demanded the ouster of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who ruled the country with an iron hand since 1999.  
And across the Middle East -- from Bahrein and Yemen to Iran -- pro-democracy rallies are being held.  In Tehran, Iran, an opposition march was held last February 14, in solidarity with the Egyptian people.  

What’s happening in Iran today is in contrast to the uprising that toppled Shah Pahlavi on February 11, 1979.  Islamic fundamentalists led the 1979 revolution but this time around the opposition appears to be secular and non-clerical just like their victorious counterparts in Tunisia and Egypt. 

*Wind of change

While a strong “wind of change” is blowing across the Middle East, the “change” that Filipinos fought for in a peaceful presidential election last May 10, 2010 has come to a standstill.  The solidly entrenched forces of “status quo” are repelling every move by President Benigno Aquino III to fight corruption and institute reforms.  It’s ironic that Aquino, who was swept to power on the crest of his parents’ popularity with the masses, has yet to fulfill his promise of “change” – not because of his unwillingness to do so but because of his apparent lack of drive to pursue it.  To bring about a change, Aquino has to be a Lee Kuan Yew and a Rambo all rolled into one. 

With corruption still running high in the government including the humongous Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the recent Senate investigation into allegations of corruption involving former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s AFP chiefs of staff hit a snag when former Chief of Staff Gen. Angelo Reyes committed suicide in front of his parents’ graves last February 8, 2011.  However, the Senate investigation continues.  If Reyes or any of his family members were exonerated of corruption, then that would clear his name and remove the stigma that compelled him to take his own life.

*Democracy

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of EDSA People Power Revolution on February 25th, let’s not forget that the EDSA Revolution was all about the restoration of the country’s democracy.  

But what exactly is democracy?  Can anyone say that our country is democratic when kleptocractic officials, whose mantra is “What’s in it for me,” run it?  Is our country democratic when those who were sworn to protect the constitution and uphold the law of the land seem to protect those who broke the law and plundered the land? Is our country democratic when those who were sworn to protect the State and the people are more interested in protecting their ill-gotten wealth?  Is our country democratic when those elected to serve their constituents are more interested in serving their own interests?

If any of these questions are answered with a “No,” then we cannot claim that there is democracy in our country. 

*Heroes and rogues

But the good news is that heroes are coming out, risking their lives, to expose corruption.  Today, we have heroes in retired Lt. Col. George Rabusa; Col. Antonio Ramon Lim (who was recently promoted to full Colonel); and former State Auditor Heidi Mendoza.  I fervently hope that tomorrow there would be more Filipinos who would bring out the heroes in themselves and expose the rogues in our government.

Twenty-five years after the EDSA People Power Revolution, the Philippines is approaching a crossroad where the people would either move forward on the road to true democracy or turn around and go back to the pre-EDSA days where the corrupt reign and the people reek of poverty.

Indeed, the people have a choice. They always do.




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