The Tunisian people successfully toppled their president from power after mass protests in the streets, instigated by a humiliated fruit vendor who set himself on fire (and subsequently died) after a female police officer confiscated his wares and slapped him. On the heels of these events, the Yemeni and Egyptian people are also taking to the streets to protest their dissatisfaction with their governments. It is Day 6 of protests in Egypt and I am transfixed by what I see on Al Jazeera TV. These images bring my mind back to late February 1986, when a nation took to the streets of its capital Manila.
The People Power Revolution in the Philippines occurred on February 22-25 when masses of people publicly protested against the authoritarian Marcos regime. Presidential snap elections occurred earlier in the month and declared the incumbent, Ferdinand Marcos, the winner despite widespread rumors of election tampering and corruption. With members of his cabinet and the military turning against him and the archbishop of Manila calling the people to peaceful protest, Marcos eventually fled the country. Corazon “Cory” Aquino, his opponent in the election and widow of Marcos-opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., assumed the presidency.
I see a lot of similarities between those protests 25 years ago in the Philippines and the ones today in Egypt.
- People are fed up with a despotic regime led by someone in power for too long. Despite claiming to be purported democracies, these presidents have been in power for 20+ years (Mubarak for 30 and Marcos for 21) with administrations full of rampant corruption, political repression, nepotism, and human rights violations. The media is controlled by the government.
- The military fraternizes with protesters. The recent images I’ve seen from Egypt have been ones of a baby sitting on a tank and a woman or man kissing a soldier. In the Philippines, people brought their families/children to the streets, young women handed flowers and food to the soldiers.
- Religious prayer is observed despite the chaos. In Egypt, I am struck by a line of men on the floor, kneeling and bowing in prayer as soldiers surround them. They remind me of the Filipino nuns and priests linking arms and joining the people to form a human chain against an approaching army of soldiers and tanks. They prayed the rosary out loud and raised up their hands which held rosary beads or the Bible. Some protesters even cradled statues of the Virgin Mary. They used prayer as a powerful tool of resistance.
- The United States finds itself in an awkward position. Historically, both Egypt and the Philippines were considered US friends and allies. Both countries provided the US the anchor it needed to carry out its political interests within a region of instability (the prevention of the spread of communism in Asia and the spread of religious fundamentalism in the Middle East). In fact, the US aided Marcos when he fled from the Philippines. He was extracted from Malacañang Palace and eventually brought to Hawaii by US Armed Forces. He stayed there until his death in 1989.
We do not know what the outcome will be in Egypt despite the similarities I just pointed out. I do hope that the protests will end as peacefully as possible. The Philippine people are proud that the revolution in 1986 was bloodless with no shots fired at the people. To learn more about the People Power Revolution, click here. Both black and white photos above & the photo immediately below were found on Francesca Cojuangco Guingona’s page.