Never mind that the Egyptian political and social earthquake was largely unforeseen by both reporters and political pundits, at least until shock waves from the Tunisian revolt began to spread through the Arab world, creating shudders even in relatively far-off and clamped-down Iran. Hosni Mubarak may have been a dictator, despot, and possibly a crook (how much money went missing into Swiss bank accounts??). But he was, in no small way, “our” dictator, despot, and (possible) crook. He kept the lid on. He didn’t bother the Israelis. He happily accepted billions in equipment from the US military-industrial complex. It isn’t entirely clear what Mubarak did with all that stuff, but it helped create jobs here. End of story.
As the Egyptian people celebrate what we can only hope will be a lasting leap forward into the difficult if liberating waters of democracy, observers have cast around for similar examples – if not too far back. It is unlikely that radio demagogues will recall the popular democratic revolutions over the past century and a half that ended in the imposition of new dictatorial regimes because of US interference. Cuba and Panama immediately come to mind, but Chile and the Iranian revolution that originally ousted the Shah should not be forgotten. A very helpful primer in this regard is Stephen Kinzer’s eyebrow-raising historical account, Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq (New York: Times Books, 2007).
But an even better example of a popular democratic uprising, a peaceful protest that ended in the flight of a dynastic tyrant and his entourage occurred in 1986 in the Philippines – one of those countries the US complicitly handed over to a friendly dictator after their struggle for independence – in this case first from Spain then from the US – as with Cuba. Ferdinand Marcos and his compulsively shoe-buying first lady not only fled to Hawaii thanks to the US, but almost managed to hang onto the billions of dollars they had siphoned out of the country into secret Swiss coffers and US banks.
I knew many Filipinos and Filipinas who participated in the revolution, which at the time was dubbed “People Power.” Almost unanimously, they agreed that the long vigils in the dark hours of the night, as thousands of citizens surrounded Radio Veritas and the free TV station, then carrying only their rosaries for protection confronted tanks and soldiers, was the greatest spiritual adventure of their lives. Here, too, faith played a leading role in the non-violent revolt, which was set in motion by the words of Cardinal Jaime Sin, who called on ordinary citizens to position themselves between the army and the radio and TV stations. Many of the subsequent non-violent revolutions in Eastern Europe that eventually brought down the Iron Curtain drew hope from the “People Power” Revolution.
At this point, it seems to me that in regard to Egypt, the freedom-loving world has less to fear from the Muslim Brotherhood than from the forces of reaction that prefer an accommodation with the wealthy and powerful. The Philippines has clung to its democratic victory against great odds. May Egypt do likewise.