pop goes the world: let my people go

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 3 February 2011, Thursday

Let My People Go

“Let my people go!”

So Moses demanded of Pharaoh when he led the Israeli nation out of slavery in Egypt, as told in the Christian Bible. The Israelites were groaning under the oppressive treatment of their Egyptian masters, for the most part living in sordid conditions and condemned to a lifetime of hard labor without the freedom to live their lives as they wished.

Finally fed up, the downtrodden people called upon their God to deliver them from their troubles, and he did so by raining down a succession of plagues that convinced the Egyptians that keeping the Israelites around to fetch and carry was more trouble than that free labor was worth.

The Book of Exodus goes on to recount how they spent the next 40 years wandering the desert in search of the Promised Land, but that’s another story.

Fast forward three thousand years. As of this posting, massive protests in the streets of Egypt have now been going on for over a week as citizens fight for their freedom from an oppressive regime and clamor for the ouster of dictator Hosni Mubarak, who has clung to power for 30 years.

Life magazine online has a photo spread of the leader titled “The Last Pharaoh”. Mubarak certainly has lived almost as royalty. A former air force officer, he was close to another Egyptian strongman, Anwar Sadat. Mubarak loyally served Sadat when the latter was leader of Egypt, and seized power only after Sadat’s assassination – and has not let go since.

Hosni Mubarak and Anwar Sadat viewing a parade in 1981,  moments before a hail of bullets cut down Sadat and ten others. Mubarak survived with only a hand wound. Image from Life.com here.

During his time in power, he has not had a vice-president, for fear of setting up a rival to his power base. He is now 81, and is said to be grooming his son to succeed him, something that does not sit well with the opposition.

Any repressive regime – think the Soviet Union, East Germany, even the Spanish colonial government in the Philippines – will restrict a people’s access to information and communication in order to control the populace and restrict movement and activity and funds from outside sources. The median age of Egypt’s population is in the mid-20s, and this younger, tech-savvy generation has had exposure to other countries by way of the Internet and are aware of the freedoms enjoyed in democratic countries.

Thus it was not entirely unexpected for the Egyptian government to respond to the popular uprising by shutting down Internet access in the country.

Still, in this day of broadband and WiFi, it was an unthinkable move. Tech analysts online scrambled to find out how it was done. All it took was for an order from the government, and all the service providers complied.

For a government to cut off a people’s means of communication is a curtailment of human rights that cannot – and should not – be ignored by the free world. People all over the planet have responded with resounding support. One of the most touching videos shows Juju, an eight-year-old Saudi girl, with this message for Mubarak: “I would tell him to remove that law, about that thing him being president forever, and to let the people of Egypt vote…and by the way, some of your police officers removed their jackets and they’re joining the people.” Yes, in case Mubarak hasn’t noticed just how widespread disaffection with his regime now is.

Over a quarter of a million Egyptians are still out in the streets calling for Mubarak to step down. Participation has swelled dramatically over the week as women, who usually are not physically involved in protests for reform, have also taken to the streets, courting risk of harm, receiving their share of injuries, and showing the world that a people fed up with oppression and fighting for their freedom will exhibit extraordinary bravery and courage, the kind that moves millions to act and topples dictatorships.

Cairo women take to the streets to protest Mubarak’s decades-long stranglehold on power. Image from Life.com here.

I wonder how our government is responding to this. Dedma lang. There has been no official statement from Malacañang so far on the crisis. What also concerns me is that the Philippine embassy in Egypt has not recommended that our citizens be repatriated for their safety. And this while looting and invasions are occurring during this time of high tension and conflict, as pent-up emotions are released.

My sister, who works with a property management company in Dubai, says that several malls in Cairo managed by their company have been looted and trashed, as have other establishments. There is no guarantee that people will remain safe. Now how are the Filipinos? Other countries such as the US and Finland have sent charter flights to take their people home. Not ours. Ours were told: “Ingat!”

The obvious parallelism is our own People Power of 1986, when girls stuck flowers in the gun barrels of soldiers and nuns prayed the rosary in the streets. A peaceful revolution dethroned a dictator and paved the way for a new era in Philippine politics. But circumstances are different in every culture. I hope for a peaceful end to the crisis, as the Philippines experienced.

The sentiment of the uprising. Image from Life.com here.

Mubarak still has seven months left to his “term”. He refuses to step down before then, pushing back the protests with rallies staged by his supporters, vowing to “die on Egyptian soil”. But the Egyptian people will have no more of that. How much longer before they achieve what they are fighting for?

Moses freed the slaves from Egypt. And now it’s the turn of the Egyptian nation to seek their own freedom from “the last pharoah”, and they are doing it right now. ***

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