Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The Middle East revolts are not Edsa

Business Mirror

The comments from local pundits and the administration linking the Edsa revolution to events in the Middle East are simply a false comparison.

As I have mentioned before, perhaps the first and most notable modern revolution occurred in 1215, when the English barons rose against King John in open rebellion forcing the king to agree to what we now call the Magna Carta. While this document is the foundation of the rule of law, limiting the monarch’s arbitrary power to within the confines of written law, the primary reason for the barons’ revolt was the high taxes levied by King John to support his unpopular and unsuccessful wars.

We speak of the American Revolution against England as a quest for establishing a democracy. However, that is not accurate. The high taxes imposed by King George III led the American colonies to demand either a voice in the British government or separation and self-governance. Democracy, participation and control of the government by the citizens, is only a way to help ensure that that government cannot become too financially burdensome on the public.

The French Revolution at the end of the 18th century was to take economic power from the aristocrats. The Russian revolution in 1917 also wrested power from the Tsarist autocracy in favor of more widespread economic benefits. In 1949 the Chinese Revolution (actually a civil war between opposing power structures) was about filling a leadership void created by the Japanese occupation during World War II and a hyperinflated, corrupt economy.

However, the important factor to consider in all of these “revolutions,” including that in the Philippines, is to look at who the participants were, not the leaders and certainly not the ideology of the leaders. When you see who the players are, then you can more accurately predict the outcome and the future of the revolutions.

It serves well to compare the two revolutions of America in 1776 and of France in 1789.

While the comparisons are not exact—as America did not replace the King of England as the revolution did in France—both involved battles between the Crown and the revolutionaries. Like America, the new Republic in France had its own “Founding Fathers.” Both created a government system that led to active political participation by the majority of citizens which had previously not existed. And both France and the American colonies were facing very difficult economic conditions that led to their revolutions.

However, the aftermath of the revolutions is completely different and gives us insight on why Edsa and Egypt (and the other Middle Eastern countries) are as different as night and day.

After the aristocracy in France was overthrown, began the Reign of Terror. Beginning in 1793, as many as 40,000 were executed without trial as two opposing groups, the Jacobins and the Girondins, vied for power.

The transition in the new United States was relatively smooth and peaceful. Understand that there was no unanimous support for the revolution. Twenty percent of the people were “Loyalists” to the Crown; only 40-plus percent wanted independence. Yet, after independence was achieved, the Loyalists were not hunted down and massacred as in France. Most of the Loyalists packed their belongings and simply left the rebel colonies for more stable parts of the British Empire and got on with their lives. By contrast, 20 times as many Frenchmen were killed during and after that revolution as in American from 1775 and 1783.

The Russian revolution brought the rise of Stalin in 1922 and, over the course of 30 years, 10 million or more were killed. In the repercussions of Mao taking over China in 1949, 200,000 people loyal to the government of Chiang Kai-shek were massacred.

We have recently witnessed hundreds, if not thousands, killed in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and in other nations around the Middle East region. However, it is what happens in the wake of these revolutions that is critically important.

Allow me to say again, to compare Edsa with Egypt is a disgrace to the Philippines, as well as showing complete ignorance of history, even Philippine history. Let me tell you why I say that.

The American and French revolutions occurred years, not decades, apart. Why massive bloodshed in France and virtually none in the US?

The primary difference between the two was not the causes but the participants. For the most part, by 18th-century standards, the people who made the American Revolution were exceptionally well-off and highly
educated. By contrast, the French revolutionaries were called the sans-culottes (or without culottes, the knee breeches worn by upper-class men). These were the backstreet, poor working class of Paris. The Russian revolution was fueled by the lumpenproletariat (rag proletariat) or as Karl Marx referred to them, the “refuse of all classes,” including “swindlers, confidence tricksters, brothel-keepers, rag-and-bone merchants, beggars and other flotsam of society.” Mao rose to power on the backs of the Chinese illiterate peasants.

Cory Aquino took her oath at Club Filipino not in a shanty beside the railroad tracks. And when the Marcos regime was finished, millions of both Marcos and Aquino loyalists, all ordinary citizens, went back to work as Filipinos. That is why the likelihood of major and extended violence is so much greater in the Arab world today than it ever was in the Philippines in 1986.

The streets of Cairo, Tripoli, Aden, Tunis and Amman are filled with people who have more in common with the sans culottes of 18th- century Paris than the people on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue in 1986. Of course, all social and economic classes participated in 1986. But Edsa, like the American Revolution, was fueled and advanced by the middle and upper classes.

Edsa, nearly without bloodshed, transformed the Philippines into a more (if still imperfect) representative democracy. The Middle East will not travel the same path. Egypt is now a direct military dictatorship. Libya will evolve into fractionalized tribal warlord regions. Tunisia and Algeria will see governments in continuous chaos and turmoil.

Unfortunately for the citizens of the Middle East, they are not reliving Edsa.


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