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Egypt uprising echoes Philippines 25 years ago

Monday January 31, 2011 06:00:52 PM, Rajendra Bajpai, IANS

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President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is facing the toughest challenge to his 30-year rule but he is not the only dictator in the world not to read the signals on his radar. His own unarmed people have risen in revolt against him but that is not the way he sees it.

What is happening in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez strongly resonates the "people power" revolt in the Philippines 25 years ago, which forced President Ferdinand Marcos, his family, friends and close relatives to hastily flee the country. Marcos, otherwise a shrewd politician, also failed to read the signals. When people rose in revolt against him, he saw it as a conspiracy much the same way as Mubarak sees it today.

President Mubarak's son and some close relatives have reportedly fled the country and it seems unlikely he will survive the largely peaceful demonstrations on the streets of Cairo and other cities.

The events that are unfolding in Egypt bear uncanny resemblance to what happened on the streets of Manila in February 1986 to which I was a witness as Reuters' correspondent there.

Twenty-five years later, it is easy to tell what mistakes Marcos was making. He refused to talk to his opponent, Corazon Aquino, whose husband Benigno was shot dead at Manila airport in 1983. She fought the presidential election against Marcos and claimed victory when it became clear the vote-count was fraudulent.

There was no election in Egypt but Mubarak has so far showed no inclination to talk to Mohammed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner, who is emerging as the leader of the masses in the country.

Marcos refused to talk to Aquino even when hundreds of thousands of people came out on the streets of Manila, declaring victory for her and asking for his resignation. His reaction was to order troops and tanks to the streets of Manila to face hundreds of thousands of unarmed protestors.

How do you shoot and kill almost a quarter of a city's population doing nothing more than chanting slogans? You don't. And the armed forces of the Philippines did not either. Instead, they shook hands with protestors, allowed them to climb on to tanks and broke bread with them. It became a picnic.

Almost exactly the same thing is happening in Cairo. Unarmed protestors are out on the streets, sharing food with soldiers. Right now it is a picnic. Protestors are riding army tanks and television images showed at least one army officer shouting slogans against the government.

We will know which side the troops are on once they are ordered to shoot and kill.

President Mubarak is showing restraint and so did Marcos. Mubarak knows (and Marcos knew) that mass killing of innocent citizens would leave him so friendless in the world that he might not even find a safe sanctuary anywhere.

When Marcos tried some hard tactics, they backfired on him pretty badly. On Feb 22, 1986, his Defence Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Head of Constabulary, General Fidel Ramos, defected and took shelter at Camp Aguinaldo in Manila, the headquarter of the armed forces where they had some loyalists.

From there they issued calls to their friends to come to their aid. Filipinos poured out on streets as if it were a national festival. Two days later, Marcos came on the government television channels and asked soldiers to attack Camp Aguinaldo. He ordered them to use only "small arms fire". Not a bullet was fired.

He ordered helicopters to attack the Camp. The air force pilots circled overhead and landed at Aguinaldo to embrace their colleagues who had already defected. On Feb 26, Marcos left the country lock, stock and barrel to eventually live and die in Hawaii.

The Egyptian story has so far played out like a remake of the 1986 Manila fable. One or two gaps remain. Mubarak has yet to order killing of unarmed people and senior army officers have yet to signal their support for the people.

If and when that happens, President Mubarak will have little time to leave the country. If there is a massacre of the people, he will win only a brief respite. After all, Egypt is burning on a short fuse.

 



(The writer, a former Reuters and Bloomberg correspondent, covered the Philippines revolt. He can be contacted at rajendra.bajpai@gmail.com.)

 

 

 

 

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