By Gel Santos Relos
Since January 25, thousands of Egyptians have relentlessly protested on the streets, demanding the end to the almost 30-year dictatorship of President Hosni Mubarak.
Despite the curfew and threat of arrest, the fearless people of Egypt continued on with their demonstrations, especially after the Egyptian government cut off internet and telecommunications access.
The videos and pictures coming in from Egypt remind us so much of our own experience in February of 1986--- people protesting in the streets, tanks and soldiers and police in the scene, a dictator who showed no signs of stepping down. Fortunately for us, the Philippine People Power Revolution was bloodless -- fought with prayers, rosaries, flowers and food. In Egypt, at least 100 people have been shot dead with many more injured.
Like our own experience in 1986, looters took advantage of the situation. We witnessed how angry protesters stormed Malacanang after hearing news that the Marcoses have fled the country. The Palace was vandalized and looted by people who vented out their rage and frustration in a destructive way, some for economic reasons.
In Egypt, many young civilians formed a shield around the museum in Cairo to protect ancient artifacts--- relics and antiquities of Egypt’s history for thousand of years were guarded. Thankfully, most of the damage done by looters so far were on the gift shop as of press time. But many affluent neighborhoods have not been spared from theft and destruction, as police could no longer contain the chaos and anarchy that have ensued.
Filipinos during the 1986 EDSA revolution and Egyptians protesting today share the same goal---to overthrow a leadership that has circumvented the law and violated the rights of its citizens in order to hold on to power, as the quality of life in the country continues to spiral downward.
After thirty years, the Egyptian people’s anger and frustration reached a tipping point, after seeing what was recently achieved in Tunisia. The Egyptians realized that they no longer needed Mubarak’s dictatorship— that they could actually do something to get the government that they deserve.
Our own People Power happened before the advent of the internet access and social media. Yet, our people were united at that time when Marcos had control of almost all forms of mass media. We did not enjoy free speech back then. We took the cue from June Keithley, when she broadcasted from Radio Veritas and from an undisclosed location, guiding us on what to do next in our quest for democracy.
The same hunger for freedom and true democracy fueled the people of Egypt. And so from January 25 up to the time this article is being written, more and more people joined the protests, with the internet and social media, like Facebook and Twitter, acting as catalysts. Their fight is also shared and supported by people from all over the world to shake Mubarak’s leadership. The military has made its stand to respect the rights of people to protest.
It was no longer a matter of if, but when Mubarak would step down as President. His wife and sons have fled the country and are now in the UK. However, as of press time, he has not made any public announcement that he would give in to the demands of the Egyptian people. Instead, he offered to deliver reforms in government, starting with the appointment of his intelligence chief.
Reminiscent of how President Cory Aquino became the unifying figure of the EDSA People Power Revolution, it became a question as to who can become Mubarak's successor. Now, Egyptian opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei has joined the protesters in Cairo and has declared that “change is coming to Egypt.”He urged the United states to withdraw its support for Mubarak. "You can't run a country on repression, detention, torture, lack of economic opportunity for 30 years," ElBaradei said. "I have been warning that for many years. Many others have been seeing the painting on the wall."
The Egyptians and their allies have criticized the Obama administration for not being strong in its denouncement of Mubarak’s leadership. It will be recalled that Obama gave a speech in Egypt on the importance of protecting and upholding democratic principles. Filipinos are asking when Obama would intervene as Reagan did, which paved the way for Marcos' departure.
The United States, however, has been walking on a tightrope on this issue. Mubarak has been a strong partner of America for three decades now with its support for Israel, and in keeping stability in the region.
Looking at the bigger picture, analysts say the US has to make sure there will be a smooth transition of power and that the one who will take over as President should continue to run Egypt such that it will continue to take on its current role in the region.
The drama that has unfolded in Egypt has also far-reaching consequences on the global economy. Egypt is strategically located along the Suez Canal, where vessels that ship oil pass. Many gas pipelines also pass through Egypt. Already, gas prices have spiked in the past week, and if the problems in Egypt are not resolved soon, gas prices would increase even more.
As I write this piece, it has been reported that with the recent pressure and nudging from President Obama, Mubarak has announced that neither he nor his run will run for reelection. The question is--will this be enough for the people of Egypt and the members of the opposition? Will they continue their protest until Mubarak has stepped down?
Observers say this development in Egypt may very well happen as well in other countries in the region. Change surely is coming, and along with it--resistance from some, scarficies for many. And the nagging question, what's going to happen next?
May the lessons of the 1986 People Power revolution and what is going on in Tunisia and Egypt help us appreciate and nurture what the generations before us have fought for and won with their blood, sweat and tears -- so that we may live free.