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[Editorial] Egypt’s uprising may one day extend to China

Feb. 18, 2011 - 19:02 By 류근하
While the resignation of Egypt’s authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak may have only set the course for the difficult transition to democracy for Egypt, Feb. 11 will be remembered as the day the people triumphed.

The transition of the Middle Eastern heavyweight and trendsetter, an important ally of the U.S. and one of the world’s greatest military powers, will have repercussions throughout the world. The direction of influence, amazingly, is unilateral, radiating from Tahrir Square to the globe. While nations worldwide have been weighting in, scrambling to decide their positions and strategies during the 18 days of Egypt’s uprising, it is crystal clear that they, including the U.S., were outsiders on the receiving end of the Egyptian people’s decision.

The Egyptian revolution is naturally an alarm to the increasingly endangered breed of authoritarian states. For now the focus is on other Middle Eastern nations such as Algeria, Yemen and to a lesser extent Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. However, dictatorships and single-party regimes all over the world will be feeling the heat. In fact, according to the report by Taiwan’s Central News Agency, many mainland Chinese bloggers cheered for the success of the Egyptian revolution and were asking the question ― “now that the people of Egypt have awakened, how about the Chinese people?”

The responses in the mainland would probably be more widespread had Beijing not imposed a partial Internet block on the Egyptian uprising; most major online news portals in China including, and only carried news related to the revolutions run by the state-owned Xinhua Agency. The portals had also temporary disallowed net users from posting their comments on the news. The term “Egypt” is still blocked in some Chinese search engines.

In many ways, the Egyptian revolution vindicated many of the authoritarian Beijing government’s fears: that the Internet can be a powerful tool for dissidents, that its seemingly secured grip on power can be lost in a short period (20 days ago no one would have believed a strongman such as Mubarak could be overthrown, not to mention so quickly), and that only the carrot and stick of continual economic growth and a tight control of people’s freedoms can ensure the communist party’s continued supremacy.

Nevertheless, China is not Egypt. In many ways, the revolution itself evolved so rapidly precisely because the Egyptians, famous for their patience, have been holding their anger for way too long. Over the last three decades, the people of the Nile saw their jobs, future and pride drifting away in the stagnation under Mubarak, while many in the mainland had seen their wealth growing thanks to open market policies. Mainland China surpassed Japan to become the world’s second largest economy and is expected by a Gallup survey to dethrone the U.S. as the world’s top economy within 20 years.

The question for Beijing is how long it can put off the outcry for democracy. The era of breakneck economic growth will have to end at some point. By then the mainland government will find it hard to curb the growing discontent of young, highly-educated and Internet savvy people who are having trouble landing a job and want to decide their own future.

However, by the time the Chinese youths have “awakened” to the calls for reform, they could be looking for examples closer to home than Tahrir Square. One of the inadvertent and inevitable results of the growing cross-strait exchanges is the opening of the mainland to Taiwan’s democratic lifestyle, which is not only restricted to the political debates and election extravaganzas but also the confidence and ease of the people of the Republic of China to be free citizens, to express their opinions, to expect their government to provide for them and to condemn it (by votes) when it fails to do so.

The Egyptian revolution was inspired by the uprising in Tunisia, which is only one-eighth of its size in terms of population. The impact of the spark of democracy is not necessarily related to the size of the inspirer. It would be wrong to underestimate the influence of a democracy of 23 million people.

(The China Post)

(Asia News Network)