Over the past few days, I have been one among many who took and interest, to some extent, felt excited about the developments in the Arab world. When the protests in Tunisia started, I thought it was going to be something which would become an isolated incident or protest action in North Africa. When protest actions erupted in Algeria, Egypt, and Yemen, I thought, this was different.
The protest in Egypt has served as an inspiration for several Arab countries which have long been under repressive and inutile regimes. Despite being situated in the oil rich region, many of the populations in the Middle East remain poor and unemployed. And this has been the result of governments which have focused more on preserving their power rather than promoting and ensuring the betterment of the population.
It is that attitude of apathy and neglect which made the protests in the Arab world, possible. And the exact opposite of that attitude is what gave life to thousands of protesters from the Algiers to Sana’a. I think, it is the same spirit and desire for change and better governance is what sustains the crowds on Tahrir square.
But I must be blunt in saying that the protests have hit an impasse. And it is largely due to the stubborn decision of President Mubarak to stay in power (or as a fellow Filipino who is in Egypt told me, at least until September).
While it may not be obvious from the ground on Tahrir square or even from the news reports that are all over the internet, it would seem that the inability of the protests in Egypt to remove Mubarak from power has far-reaching effects on the Arab world.
The Egyptian revolt was viewed by many in the Arab world (and even by some of us from beyond the seas) as the dawning of a new age in the Middle East. It was to herald the end of outdated governmental structures and social conventions. It was a shift in the socio-political behavior of a people often loyal, if not coerced to be supportive, of the ruling social order.
But Mubarak would not budge and he has stayed. And by that decision, the agitation kindled in the hearts of the other oppressed populations in the Arab world by the protests in Egypt, has somewhat taken a more cautious tone. The groups in other Arab countries which may have planned to also have their own protests in their countries, are now having second thoughts if they would succeed if they embarked on the same struggle.
A couple of days after the protests in Egypt began, I started comparing it with our own experience of the People Power of 1986 (the 25th anniversary actually falls on this month) here in the Philippines. And the same view was held by several observers from several countries. It was difficult to ignore since there were parallels between the our peaceful revolution and the Egyptian protests. But the People Power only took 3-4 days, after which Marcos and his cronies were airlifted by the US Air Force to Hawaii. Mubarak is still in Egypt.
It’s already over a couple of weeks since the protests in Egypt started and Mubarak is still in power. Although he publicly has given his Vice-President much leeway to work out deals with the opposition and the people, he is still in power. I hope it does not reach a point where he would find (or make) some reasons to forcibly disperse the crowds clamoring for his ouster.
The pictures, videos, and reports of the people who are still in Tahrir square have been inspiring. Their courage and commitment to see Mubarak go gives me goosebumps and reminds of my experience being part of the People Power of 2001. But looking at the days go by and the impasse, I cannot shake off my fear that the possibility of a repeat of what happened in the Tiananmen square exists.
Unlike our experience with bloodless revolutions here in the Philippines, the Tiananmen protests in China ran for several weeks, before the People’s Liberation Army turned their guns on the people and mercilessly massacred them. I hope the same tragedy would not fall upon the Egyptian people in the weeks ahead.