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Cairo as an echo of Manila

votermom's picture

Via crawdad, I heard that Krugman points out what I have been thinking about since last week, that the protests in Cairo seem to echo the 1986 People Power revolution in Manila.

This has some of the same feeling: a dictator who’s a long-time US client, a mass popular uprising that’s more about the perceived corruption of the government than about any particular ideology; El Baradei seems to be playing something like the Corazon Aquino role.

I say "echo" rather than "parallel" because there are similarities but key differences as well.

The basic similarity is that, yes, the USA supported a long-time dictator because of USA interests, in the name of regional stability. Supporting means turning a blind eye to very real human rights abuses, to very real corruption and looting, and most of all, a blind eye to the absence of clean elections. After a while, people start resenting this as their economic hardships grow.

Another parallel is that the protests were sanctioned by the clergy -- the Archbishop of Manila, Jaime cardinal Sin, supported Cory Aquino. That is a very big deal when the clergy of the majority religion withdraws it support for a regime. I don't know if Mubarak has any religious clergy on his side at this point. The thing about being a dictator is that at some point your public sins become so heinous that no spiritual authority can afford to support you anymore. You become radioactive.

The differences are myriad -- the biggest one being that in 1986, the region was stable and Marcos needed the USA much more than the USA needed him. It didn't really matter what happened to the Philippines (we are kind of used to that). This is very much not the case in Cairo -- Egypt is key in both ME peace and in the flow of oil. The stakes are painfully high in Egypt.

In Manila there was a clear opposition leader who was very much not a threat to USA interests. In Cairo, there is not yet a clear opposition leader, and this creates a lot of anxiety on the part of the interested outsiders.

In Manila, the opposition basically won when General Ramos switched sides to the opposition, and the rest of the army followed. In Cairo, Mubarak still has the military on his side.

In Manila, there was no implied threat of radical political change. The clergy was mainstream and non-violent. The Communist insurgency was active rurally but marginalized politically. In Egypt there is the Muslim Brotherhood which seems to be in favor of Islamic theocracy (please prove me wrong).

And what I am sure everyone else will overlook but to me is deeply significant and most troubling, in Manila, the opposition was led by a woman, and thousands of women participated, including nuns, but in Cairo you will not see a single woman protesting in the streets. ***

I am not sure what will happen in Egypt, but I am pretty sure I know what lessons the USA will NOT learn from it. The USA will not stop supporting authoritarian regimes for short-term political and economic goals, the USA will not embark on a long-term foreign policy that requires the democratic process to be a requirement for aid. Please, America, prove me wrong.

Lex pointed out that I am wrong and women are in the protests. I am very glad, and I will be very much gladder if they have more freedom under whatever new government is formed. I have read prior to the protests that more Egyptian women have been feeling pressured (or brainwashed) to wear the niqab, and I would hope that that trend reverses.

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Submitted by Lex on

There most certainly are women protesting in Egypt. Please do a Google image search, or click this link:

It's certainly true that most of the images will show men confronting riot police, mostly because those who publish images are likely to choose the most dramatic views. But i think you're doing all Egyptians and especially Egyptian women a huge disservice to suggest that no women are involved.

Perhaps you should explore the Muslim Brotherhood's website ( Pay special attention to the section at the bottom of the main page "MB vs. AQ". It renounced violence some time ago and while it may not fit our idea of secular democracy, it has announced that it will stand behind, el Baradei as opposition leader. There's no evidence to suggest that it's behind the protests and they've been incredibly free of religious provocation.

In any case, too bad for America. Those are the breaks of self-determination. If the Egyptian people want an Islamic democracy that's their choice. If an Islamic theocracy takes hold of Egypt that's another issue, but this fear of such a state is not a good reason to deny the Egyptians their voice. And it doesn't give the multi-religious Egyptian culture enough credit. Why should we assume that Egyptians cannot establish a thriving, Islamic democracy?

votermom's picture
Submitted by votermom on

I think Mubarak is on the way out, one way or another, and I very much hope that the new order offers equality for women.

I don't know anything about the Muslim Brotherhood, but I'm really not wasting my time going to their website to read about what they say about themselves. If I've learned anything in the 21st century, it's that talk is very cheap. I'm about to see in real-time how they act, what they do, and my opinion holds no weight in their reality anyway.

Why should we assume that Egyptians cannot establish a thriving, Islamic democracy?

I am not assuming that at all; I am in favor of self-determination and democracy. But I am skeptical of the viability of any "religious" democracy since I firmly believe in the value of separating church from state. But my whole post is to point out that the USA needs to realize that supporting democracy is in the USA's self-interest, and I think you might have missed that.

That said, thank you for engaging me in discussion and pointing out the what you disagree with.

Here's my question -- do you really think the Muslim Brotherhood is going to be a good force for change or do you support them because they oppose to a dictator?

Submitted by Lex on

Ok, then do some other research on the Muslim Brotherhood, but remember when you know what a group says about itself, you can then evaluate their actions better.

I'm not for or in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood at all, but i do accept that we may not completely agree with the results of Egyptian self-determination. I support that even if means that Egyptians decide that Islamic ideals will play a part in their government or if the Muslim Brotherhood wins elections to represent the Egyptian people. I would have a problem with a situation wherein the Islamic character does not recognize women as full participants in Egyptian society, or if theocracy replaces democracy. But i am not willing to assume that such an end is necessarily the result. Even in a secular democracy, Egyptian democracy is likely to have an Islamic flavor if only because the majority of Egyptians are Muslim.

I am so far impressed with the behavior of the Brotherhood during these protests. They may be scheming to first get rid of Mubarak and then attempt to gain control (Mubarak's regime has been particularly violent towards them), but they've been saying the same thing "free and fair elections" that other Egyptian activists have been saying for a long time. That the Brotherhood is backing el Baradei at the moment says a lot, and is probably all that we can know for the time being.

I agree that supporting actual democracy is in the USA's self-interest, but i also realize that doing so may lead to results that Americans find distasteful in the short-term. We cannot support democracy while saying who can and cannot participate. It's not democracy then.

I'd like to say that the US can be a strong proponent of democracy and provide a helping hand to nations to achieve their self-determination peacefully and without the violent shocks that lead to erosions of democracy. But i have no evidence that the US is interested or willing to be such a participant in the world, so i've reached the point where i think we should stay the fuck out of other people's business until we start believing in and actualizing our own myths/ideals rather than supporting dictators and one-party states for the sake of our short-term interests and dreams of perpetual hegemony.

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Submitted by votermom on

We cannot support democracy while saying who can and cannot participate. It's not democracy then.

Completely agree.

About the paragraph that follows though, if we just stay away, inevitably some atrocity occurs and the USA is pressured to intervene and the cycle restarts. It's a tough job figuring out where the line is, but I think the line exists specially as regards to human rights and we have to find it. Just saying "it's a domestic matter" is like being the cop who won't arrest a man for beating his family.

Submitted by Lex on

I'd very much like for the United States to be a proactive and engaged force in the world. I sincerely wish that in a case like Egypt we not only had the ideals but the will and the ability to help implement democracy. That is, really help people of the world who want to be free and determine their own future to establish institutions for doing that.

If we even came close i would have taken the State Department job offer in an instant and dedicated my life to it.

But we have such a horrible track record. We generally end up on the opposite side of freedom and democracy when we do intervene. At best we paper over the establishment of one-party, neoliberal states with fuzzy words of freedom.

I've reached a point where i think the world would be better served - tragedies and all - by the US not meddling at least until such time as the US starts to resemble the first paragraph of this comment.

Submitted by Lex on

You're right, we're not unique in that. But it upsets me more when it's my nation not living up to its high ideals.

Submitted by Lex on

We can have a Republic...and there's no telling how long a well-functioning republic can last...or we can have an Empire. Empires always fall. We cannot have both.

I don't like Clinton as an SoS, but it's not because she's Hillary Clinton. It's because she's a politician not a diplomat. Still, you're right about the personality having very little importance. They'll all be representing the empire for so long as we continue to choose empire over a republic.

Submitted by lambert on

I hate to be wrong, but I hope I can at least admit it for the sake of the record. And feminist concerns about the role of women post-Mub are totally warranted, of course. Krugman also cites "the Manila parallel":

The Philippine example may also serve as a useful model for what to expect if the revolution succeeds. The Philippines didn’t turn into Sweden; there was still plenty of corruption, democracy remains imperfect, etc. — none of which changes the fact that getting rid of Marcos was a very good thing. Egypt won’t turn into Sweden either, but maybe, just maybe, something good is about to happen.

Not perhaps "good," but better.

I'm glad to have these posts on Manila, Votermom, and the closer to the ground, the better. It's the detail that helps us avoid projectin our own experience onto others.

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Submitted by jjmtacoma on

I'll be curious if anyone has any information about the Islamic Brotherhood.

Even though we have "separation of Church and State" here - there is a ton of Christian language peppered through the government communications and anyone trying to be elected to higher offices frequently will site faith-y beliefs.

I think it would be possible to have similar in a Muslim country without going as far as the Taliban interpretation of Sharia law.

votermom's picture
Submitted by votermom on

so even as of now they do not really separate Church and State, but as you say, there can be a wide degree of latitude in how that gets implemented.

Violet Socks's picture
Submitted by Violet Socks on

I came over to read votermom's post, since she linked it at my blog. As I read I was nodding along, especially when she got to the part about Egyptian women. That's my #1 concern: Egyptian women.

What struck me forcibly about Lex's response was that he seems to have a totally different point of view, as revealed in the way he approaches the problem:

In any case, too bad for America. Those are the breaks of self-determination. If the Egyptian people want an Islamic democracy that's their choice. If an Islamic theocracy takes hold of Egypt that's another issue, but this fear of such a state is not a good reason to deny the Egyptians their voice.

First of all: "too bad for America"? Is votermom's post even about what's good for America? Not how I read it. As a woman I don't align myself with "America" but with other women around the world, and I think this is common among feminists. Government doesn't serve us, and most revolutions (dominated by men) bring in just another flavor of patriarchy.

And his references to "Egyptians" and "their voice" -- well, actually, that's the issue, isn't it? Is it Egyptians or is it Egyptian men? Will it be democracy for Egyptians or democracy for Egyptian men?

Submitted by Lex on

I tend to consider men and women as equal, so when i say "Egyptian people" i mean all of its people. And i would be very pained and angry to see this movement be turned into a means to oppress Egyptian women; it would be a failure in that case. But it's not as if Egyptian women have it particularly good right now. They may not be forced to submit to stupid, Islamic laws but we all know that women face particularly bad circumstances in poverty.

Yes, i expanded votermom's post in my response. I did so because it's arguments like keeping the Muslim Brotherhood from power that allow people like Obama to keep supporting them or not allow for self-determination.

It's like the argument that we can't leave Afghanistan because we have to protect its women, while we kill them to protect them...while the same cruelty perpetrated against them under the Taliban continues under our occupation. It's not a callousness towards women on my part; it's a defense against truly callous men (and not a few women) who are willing to use "protecting" women to oppress everyone.

And it is possible for Islam to treat women fairly. Our perspective is warped by accepting a very strange strain of Islam as its whole. Saudi Arabian Wahhabism has spread, to a large extent, because of American actions. Afghanistan was one of the most moderate Muslim nations in the world until we teamed up with the Saudis to fight the Soviets. The men who became the Taliban learned their Islam as refugees in Pakistan, taught and supported by Saudi Wahhabists and without any connection to their traditions or families. And i cannot remember the last time an American leader said a negative thing about the Saudis; we certainly don't pressure them to treat Saudi women as human beings.

Mubarak could have mandated the hijab and we would not have said a damned thing. He's shown no problem with torturing and murdering people for their political beliefs, men or women, and we didn't say anything.

Finally, Egypt is majority Muslim and Islam is the state religion, but it has Christians too (actually, a longer, richer Christian history than any European country). We should not assume that because some Egyptian men would like to yoke women to terrible Islamic laws that they will automatically be able to do so. And if America wants to play a proactive role it can help Egypt establish democratic institutions with the clear guidelines that our assistance comes with one, basic rule: all people are created equal. (I'm not holding my breath, the US has proven that it's more than willing to trade on its supposed ideals for short-term gains.)

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Submitted by Violet Socks on

Lex, if your argument is that American foreign policy has been destructive and cynically hypocritcal, then I don't think anyone here would disagree with you. Indeed, I believe that was actually the central point of votermom's post. As she said:

The basic similarity is that, yes, the USA supported a long-time dictator because of USA interests, in the name of regional stability. Supporting means turning a blind eye to very real human rights abuses, to very real corruption and looting, and most of all, a blind eye to the absence of clean elections.

So I don't think you'll find much argument on that point.

As for women's rights in Egypt: this is not just some false pretext around which to rally American intervention. First of all, I'm not sure anyone here is even proposing such a thing. Secondly, as you yourself point out, the U.S. is quite capable of ignoring or attending to women's rights violations as it suits current foreign policy. Feminists don't run the country.

Thirdly, and most importantly: women's rights in Egypt really are at risk. Regardless of how that happened (and understanding that would involve untangling the past half-century of global politics, including America's role), the situation right now really is that women's rights are under threat from fundamentalist Islam.

Submitted by lambert on

Well, that's what I see an assessment of in Lex's post, paragraphs 4 and 6. But I'm not seeing engagement on those points. Leaving out the issues of what, if anything, the US should do, if anything, which aren't germane.

NOTE One thing to watch for would be a junior officer coup (of which there is a history in Egypt) -- working on the assumption that the junior officers are more likely to be Islamist, although I/P would be the salient issue for them.

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Submitted by Violet Socks on

Not seeing what engagement from who on what points?

Lex makes the points that not all Islam is fundamentalist and it's possible for Islam-majority countries to embrace women's rights. These are surely obvious truths for educated people. This isn't a discussion forum for wingnuts, is it?

But pointing out these obvious facts doesn't change the other fact---which also should be obvious---- that fundamentalist Islam is, indeed, a serious force in the world and a threat to women's rights.

I guess what's needed is a more sophisticated level of discourse.

Submitted by lambert on

"Fundamentalist Islam is, indeed, a serious force in the world and a threat to women's rights."

Sure. That's a truism. Since, it doesn't advance this thread, I don't feel compelled to address it further; there are links to MB here and elsewhere.

You are quite right; a more sophisticated level of discourse is needed.

Submitted by Lex on

I don't believe for a minute that anyone here is proposing women's rights in Egypt as a false pretext for American support of a dictatorship. I know that Corrente will always come down on the side of women. I appreciate that and agree with it completely.

My point was that the Democratic Party is all too happy to use the very real concerns of people on the left about women's rights as a false pretext to start/continue a lot of nefarious practices. I'm not sure how to separate real concerns from political manipulations of real concerns.

I'll repeat my point that if the US wants to be a proactive part of the Egyptian people setting their own course, then it should support them with the understanding that said support requires recognizing that all people are created equal.

As you said, women's rights are threatened in Egypt now, under Mubarak (i presume that's what you meant since the protesters have gained no actual power). So it is not as if we're doing a good job securing women's rights in Egypt under the current circumstances...and this is with the US holding a lot of sway. Egypt doesn't just get our support; it's a client state, the second largest recipient of US aid after Israel. We're not tolerating Mubarak, he's our bastard as FDR would have put it.

To date, the protests have not taken on many (if any) tones of being about fundamentalist Islam. I don't doubt or deny that there are frightening strains of fundamentalist Islam in Egypt. But securing women's rights is not going to happen by supporting dictators. Fundamentalist Islam grew, to a great extent, because of our Middle East policy. Not only did we support it and nurture it during the Cold War as a counterbalance to Arab nationalism, which we assumed had to be the same thing as Communism, but it's much more likely to be a strong social and political force in Arab dictatorships than in open, Islamic societies.

Submitted by lambert on

... that we're looking at a Khomenei situation here (assuming that's the test of what "Islamic fundamentalism" looks like). If, indeed, the MB are fundamentalists, they're concealing it in this movement. But that's exactly the opposite of what Khomenei did: He was a totally out front about his desire for a theocracy, and that was the source of his appeal. And to me, the concealment is a sign of weakness, because if their appeal was strong, they could be open about it; which also bodes well for electoral outcomes.

I guess what I'm saying is that evidence is needed that an Islamic Fundamentalist outcome is likely.* I haven't seen evidence of that. So right now the issue of whether an Islamic Fundamentalist outcome is bad for women is moot.**

Also, I'd like to hear more detail from Votermom about the role of women in the Manilla events, and not just Aquino. That will help me look for detail in Cairo to compare. Thanks!!

(Again, note that I'm listening to AJ most of the time, and not looking at it, and now that my attention has been drawn to it, I realize that women's voices are much, much more present on AJ than their images on the Cairo street. For example, right now the anchor, and the reporter on the street, who is in some danger, are both women.)

NOTE * However, if I were Votermom, I wouldn't have given up so easily. I would have said something like "Sure, you show us pictures, but how do we know they're representative?" (Just to open up the ol' bag of tricks, here.) Then we would have done some assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood. That would have been "engagement."

NOTE ** I know Bibi says that, but I trust Bibi about as far as I can throw a concert grand piano.

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Submitted by votermom on

Also, I'd like to hear more detail from Votermom about the role of women in the Manilla events, and not just Aquino. That will help me look for detail in Cairo to compare. Thanks!!

I think I have led you down the wrong path in a way, because the role of women there was a natural result of their cultural status. I will write a post to explain my thoughts after I mull them over.

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Submitted by votermom on

Your opinion means a lot to me!

Government doesn't serve us, and most revolutions (dominated by men) bring in just another flavor of patriarchy.

It feels rather like we are witnessing, in recent history, a global trend of women's rights being reversed. It is another thing I hope I am wrong about.

Submitted by lambert on

Somewhere over the past few days I recall hearing that twenty years ago one hardly saw a hijab in Cairo, and today they are much more prevalent, not because Islam is a state religion, but because the Muslim Brotherhood is effective at doing what religious movement do (provide social services, like Hizbullah, for example). It's not a sudden thing at all.

The figure I hear is that the Muslim Brotherhood represents 20% of the electorate. I don't know of that's true. The argument is to open the democratic process and let them make their case.

The proportion of women to men in what I can see (which is TS) isn't anywhere near 50/50, but the women in the movement aren't there in onesies and twosies. Behind the AJ news desk, the proportion of women is very high. And in calls in, there are many women. Since I'm primarily listening and typing, and not watching (and not typing) I may have over-estimated, from what I hear, how many women there are.

UPDATE Adding... I keep hearing (not seeing) that this is a youth movement. I have less than no idea what cultural attitudes toward women are among Egyptian youth. Maybe I can use a contact or two and find out. But "Million Man March," well, er....

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Submitted by Violet Socks on

The argument is to open the democratic process and let them make their case.

Well, a majority of voters in the U.S. South were in favor of Jim Crow and segregation. So the will of the people should have prevailed, right?

Submitted by lambert on

.... that the support for MB was around 20%* because that was the number I heard reported. Perfectly happy to let them fight it out on the basis of those numbers. Do you have any sourcing that says otherwise? A live blog I can do; it's a media critique. Any assessment whatever of Egyptian culture or mores, that I cannot do.

NOTE The civil war was fought on that question... and the majority on this continent did, in fact, prevail. And, in fact, one way or another, it probably is going to prevail until its mind is changed, which is why one has Women's Suffrage, and Civil Rights, and Gay Rights, which won, won, and is winning.

UPDATE No doubt superficial analysis on the MB, but I'm not seeing warning flags in the sourcing. I don't think we're looking at a Khomeini scenario, if only (this point isn't made in the article) to have a Khomeini, there has to be a Khomeini -- in exile, sending in tapes, a theologian-waiting-for a theocracy. Entirely possible there is one, and our famously free press didn't notice, but sifting the tea leaves of that article, I'm not seeing it.

NOTE * 1/5 of Parliament seats, 2005. I don't know how representative the E electoral system is.