When news of street protests in Egypt was breaking a few days ago, the first question I asked to a colleague of mine was, “who is acting as the leader behind these protests?.” To which he answered, “no one; the whole thing will take on a life of its own, it will take care of itself.” I went away perplexed, as I have a habit of wanting to see the big picture all at once. Stories must have a beginning and an ending. And street protests must not only be spontaneous; they must have a purpose, and a plan on how to get there.
The latest news from Egypt about looting and lawlessness proves my point: these protests could easily slide into something unintended. An Egypt on the brink of anarchy is certainly not what these protesters have in mind. Yet, there is no one at the helm to offer guidance and directions.
All this reminds me of the Philippines’ People Power Revolution, a bloodless revolution that was propelled by the sheer force of the collective will and hopes of millions of Filipinos who on the streets of Manila in that year of 1986 dared stop armored trucks and tanks on their tracks, wooed the Philippine military with rosaries and flowers, and successfully toppled down a dictatorship. It was, as others would have described it, a revolution won on a wing and a prayer.
At the center of it all was a leader, Cory Aquino. Her sincerity, quiet strength, and commitment to democratic principles catapulted her to national fame that she herself did not anticipate. The Filipino people, tired and weary of 20 years of dictatorship and cronyism, saw in her a new hope, an inspiration of better things to come.
Soon, however, realpolitik set in. While helping to restore democracy for the country, Cory found herself defending her government against at least 7 coup attempts. But what she brought to the table of Philippine politics was an inspiration, a hope, a symbol at a time when the country needed it most.
But an inspiration is just that, a moment meant to encourage and, well, to inspire. Her regime’s purpose was to provide a transition from a dictatorship to a constitutional democracy. It was meant to represent a symbol of better things to come.
Egypt’s street protests don’t have a leader. Still and all, the protesters are succeeding in making their point – they want an end of the Mubarak regime.
Lest Egypt slide into chaos and fall into the hands of opportunists and Islamists, the Egyptian military are reaching out, and rightly so, to the moderate majority who are behind these protests. While watching over them, Mubarak, for his own sake, should start contemplating about viable options open to him, options that will prevent a power vacuum from occurring. Perhaps he should resign and call for early elections, or resign and form a caretaker government that will attend to the business of governing until the September elections.
Until then, it is hoped that Egypt’s street protesters will come to understand that what they have started -- a democratic movement and an ethos so new and liberating for a country with no democratic tradition – will transform itself into a genuine republicanism, at the core of which is an intelligent populace who choose and empower their leaders through their enlightened consent.