Monday, February 7, 2011

Lessons From Cairo

Commenting on the social unrest in Egypt, Foreign Minister George Yeo said, "I don't think that the event there would be so bad as to threaten the passage of ships through he Suez canal." We don't know what his choice of reading material is, but some publications are already declaring, "After Egypt and Tunisia, other governments in the Arab world are feeling the heat".

They are also saying that dictators like Mubarak, who had signaled he intended to run for a 6th term despite being 82 and in poor health, find it difficult to handle change because the structure of power they have set cannot respond to the new, dynamic demands from their people. So it was in Tunisia; so it was in Egypt. Spot the familiar seeds of discontent in the following quote:
"Over the past 5 years, the Mubarak regime has pursued an economic growth plan of rapid liberalisation, promising to deliver jobs and modernity in the process. Increasingly, however, Egyptians complain that unemployment is higher than ever, that the cost of living has risen while wages have stayed the same and that government corruption and repression have come to permeate all aspects of society." (TIME, 7 Feb 2011)

"That means that the region's so-called stability was an illusion," says Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. "These regimes are not, in fact, stable and are going to fall - if not now, then later."

What is unique in Cairo is the behavior of the protesters calling for the resignation of Mubarak, which led Obama to cite their maturity and civic-mindedness as reasons for hope that Egypt will transcend from pharaohism to democracy. However, the decision to cut off mobile telephones, text messaging and the internet proved a turning point. "When you block the internet, you are asking the people to come down to the streets," said engineer Shawawi, "and anything can happen."

There are many lessons Singapore can learn from the unfolding events. When push comes to shove, like the Egyptians, long cowed by the heavy hand of Mubarak's police and intelligence forces, people will be heeding a crash course in protestation. Maybe material like their 26-page pamphlet titled "How To Protest Intelligently", with instructions on where to go, what slogans to chant and what to wear. Not exactly something to look forward to.


  1. Hi,

    Thanks for your blog.

    Actually, there is only one lesson from this episode - the President of United States (or whoever he is working for), NOT the citizens of Egypt, decides whether the President of Egypt steps down or not.

  2. The lesson is .... "We should build institution for the country, and not around any political persuasion / party / personality." Agree?

  3. Agree. The old man and PAP has over the years systematically remove or taken over all institutions and independent checks and balances. What we have now is a sham democracy. In substance it is a classic dictatorship.

  4. The Egyptians are not just asking for the removal of a dictator.

    They are also asking for a re-alignment of allegiance to another ideal, which I am sure many in Singapore can't connect with - ie towards a more friendly Islamic governance.

    Those who encourage Singaporeans to follow the Egyptians should make an effort to understand what the Egyptians are truly asking for.

    Singapore political scene is nowhere near Egypt

  5. That was Mubarak's line to U.S. envoy Frank Wisner: Without him, Egypt would fall prey to radicalism or the Muslim Brotherhood. But this time, Wisner is rejecting Mubarak's argument: It is time for the political reform to begin.

  6. wah, i love this blog man.

  7. LKY belongs hard top right.