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The Story of the Egyptian Revolution

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Photo: Nevine Saki

 

One week ago, Egypt was a stable authoritarian regime, prospects of change were minimal and every expert in Washington would have betted on the endurance of its regime. Today, Egypt is in a state of chaos. The regime, even after using its mightiest sword is not able to control the country and the streets of Egypt are in a state of utter lawlessness. As the world stands in awe, confusion, and worry at the unfolding events, perhaps it is important to write the evolving story that is happening in Egypt before any reflections can be made on them.

Contrary to pundits, it turns out that the Egyptian regime was neither stable nor secure. The lack of its stability is not a reflection of its weakness or lack of a resolve to oppress. It is a reflection of its inherent contradiction to the natural desire of men to enjoy their basic freedoms. Egyptians might not know what democracy actually means, but that does not make the concept any less desirable. Perhaps it is precisely its vagueness and abstraction that makes the concept all the more desirable.

For two weeks calls were made using new social media tools for a mass demonstration on the 25th of January. Observers dismissed those calls as another virtual activism that would not result in anything. Other calls in the past had resulted in very small public support and the demonstrations were limited to the familiar faces of political activists numbering in the hundreds. As the day progressed, the observers seemed to be correct in their skepticism. While the demonstrations were certainly larger than previous ones, numbering perhaps 15,000 in Cairo, they were nothing worrisome for the regime. They were certainly much smaller than the ones in 2003 against the Iraq War. The police force was largely tolerating and when they decided to empty Tahrir Square, where the demonstrators had camped for the night, it took them less than 5 minutes to do so.

But beneath that, things were very different. The social media tools had given people something that they had lacked previously, an independent means of communication and propaganda. Hundreds of thousands of young Egyptians in a matter of minutes were seeing the demonstration videos being uploaded on youtube. For an apolitical generation that had never shown interest in such events the demonstration was unprecedented. More remarkable they were tremendously exaggerated. At a moment when no more than 500 demonstrators had started gathering in that early morning, an Egyptian opposition leader could confidently tweet that he was leading 100,000 in Tahrir Square. And it stuck.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that after 58 years of organized state propaganda, people would not believe for a second the government’s media machine and its coverage of the events. Why they chose to believe the alternative propaganda needs more explaining. People believed the twitter messages and the facebook postings because they wanted to believe them. Tunisia had broken the barrier for many people. It mattered not that the situation and ruling formula in Tunisia is very different than the one in Egypt. Perceptions were more important than reality. If the Tunisians could do it, then so could we. With 15,000 demonstrating in Cairo, Egyptians were already texting each other with stories of the President’s son escape. The only debate being whether Hosni Mubarak would escape to London or Saudi Arabia.

The next day the demonstrations continued with a promise of a return on Friday the 28th after Friday Prayers in Mosques. The regime started panicking at this moment. This was simply something they did not understand. Imagine for a second Mubarak’s advisors trying to explain to the 83 year old dictator what twitter is in the first place. What was more worrying for them was that the only real force in Egyptian politics, the Muslim Brotherhood, announced its intention of joining the demonstrations. Suddenly they were faced with the prospect of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators from every Mosque in the country. They acted as every panicking authoritarian regime would act. They acted stupidly.

The internet was cut off in Egypt. Mobile phone companies were ordered to suspend services. With tools of communication disrupted the regime was hopeful that they had things under control. Simultaneously they started standard arrests of Muslim Brotherhood leaders. Things seemed for them under control. But they weren’t. With every stupid panicking move by the regime, the narrative of its weakness was only reinforced for the people. People saw a regime that was scarred of the internet and they rightfully calculated that this was their golden opportunity.

Friday was an unprecedented event in Egypt. While it is impossible to guess the number of protestors on the streets that day, it is safe to say that they exceeded one million. Every Mosque was a launching site for a demonstration. The Islamists were out in full force. The slogans that day were quite different than the previous ones. Islamic slogans and activists were clearly visible. The security forces were faced with wave after wave of protestors that came from every street. In 4 hours, the security forces were collapsing.

Whether Mubarak was fully previously told about the deteriorating situation for the previous days or whether it was at this moment that he suddenly realized the gravity of the situation remains unknown. One thing is sure; the regime was not prepared for this. It is at this moment that the decision was taken to call in the army, announce a curfew, and withdraw the security forces. In reality the army did not deploy immediately. The troops and tanks that appeared in the streets were the Presidential Guard units deployed in Cairo.

The army was actually still far away from deploying in Cairo. Because no one had imagined that the situation would totally be out of control, the level of alert of the army was never raised. Officers were not called from their vacations and the whole top command of the Egyptian army was actually thousands of miles away in Washington for strategic prearranged discussions at the Pentagon. Moreover, the plan of deployment of the army never imagined a scenario where people would defy it. No one imagined that the army would be required to put a tank in every street. They thought that the mere mention of the army being called in, the sight of a few tanks, and the announcement of the curfew, would make people immediately go home scared. People did not.

The Egyptian army is hugely popular. This is due to the established mythology of Egyptian politics. The army, which is in all aspects the regime, is seen as separate by the people. The army is viewed as clean (not like the corrupt government), efficient (they do build bridges fast), and more importantly the heroes that defeated Israel in 1973 (it is no use to debate that point with an Egyptian). With the troops and tanks appearing in the streets, people actually thought the army was on their side, whatever that might mean. With an announced Presidential addressed that kept being delayed; Egyptians prepared themselves for an announcement of Mubarak’s resignation.

Mubarak was at a loss. The troops could not possibly shoot people. That would not only destroy the army’s reputation, but more importantly the troops practically could not do it. These guys after all were not trained for this. They do not have rubber bullets or tear gas. They only have live ammunition and tanks and the thought of actually using them in this situation was never an option. To the surprise of the regime, people just celebrated the army’s arrival and started dancing in the streets defying the curfew. More importantly something else was happening as well. The looting was starting.

The decision to withdraw the security forces was a natural decision. First they were utterly exhausted and needed the rest to regroup. Secondly, as the security forces had become the symbol of the regime’s oppression their withdrawal was seen as necessary to calm things. Thirdly and most importantly, in the protocol of operations there could not possibly be two forces with arms in the same street receiving orders from two different structures of command. Even with the best of coordination, a disaster is bound to happen.

What was not calculated however is the fact that suddenly a vacuum was created. The security forces were withdrawn and the army was not deployed yet. In this gap an opportunity presented itself for everyone. The scenes were unbelievable. First there was massive anger vented at symbols of state oppression such as the ruling party’s headquarters. More drastically, in what can only be described as systematic targeting, police stations everywhere were attacked. Every police station in Cairo was looted, the weapons in them stolen and then burned. At the same time, massive looting was taking place. Even the Egyptian Museum, which hosts some of the world’s greatest heritage, was not spared.

Saturday was indescribable. Nothing that I write can describe the utter state of lawlessness that prevailed. Every Egyptian prison was attacked by organized groups trying to free the prisoners inside. In the case of the prisons holding regular criminals this was done by their families and friends. In the case of the prisons with the political prisoners this was done by the Islamists. Bulldozers were used in those attacks and the weapons available from the looting of police stations were available. Nearly all the prisons fell. The prison forces simply could not deal with such an onslaught and no reinforcements were available. Nearly every terrorist held in the Egyptian prisons from those that bombed the Alexandria Church less than a month ago to the Murderer of Anwar El Sadat was freed, the later reportedly being arrested again tonight.

On the streets of Cairo it was the scene of a jungle. With no law enforcement in town and the army at a loss at how to deal with it, it was the golden opportunity for everyone. In a city that is surrounded with slums, thousands of thieves fell on their neighboring richer districts. People were robbed in broad daylight, houses were invaded, and stores looted and burned. Egypt had suddenly fallen back to the State of Nature. Panicking, people started grabbing whatever weapon they could find and forming groups to protect their houses. As the day progressed the street defense committees became more organized. Every building had its men standing in front of it with everything they could find from personal guns, knives to sticks. Women started preparing Molotov bombs using alcohol bottles. Street committees started coordinating themselves. Every major crossroad had now groups of citizens stopping all passing cars checking their ID cards and searching the cars for weapons. Machine guns were in high demand and were sold in the streets.

I do not aim to turn this into a personal story, but those people are my friends and family. It is a personal story to me. My neighbors were all stationed in my father-in-law’s house with men on the roof to lookout for possible attackers. A friend of mine was shot at by a gang of thieves and another actually killed one of them to defend his house and wife. Another friend’s brother arrested 37 thieves that day. The army’s only role in all of this was to pass by each area to pick up the arrested thieves. Army officers informed the street committees that anyone with an illegal weapon should not worry and should use it. Any death of one of the thieves would not be punished.

On the political front the story was evolving. More troops were pouring into Cairo. Mubarak decided to appoint Omar Suliman as Vice President and Ahmed Shafik as Prime Minister. Both are military men, Suliman being the Chief of the Egyptian Intelligence Service and Shafik being the former commander of the Air Forces. To understand the moves one has to understand the nature of the ruling coalition in Egypt and the role of the army in it.

The Egyptian regime has been based since 1952 on a coalition between the army and the bureaucrats. In this regard it fits perfectly into O’Donnell’s Bureaucratic Authoritarian model. The army is fully in control of both actual power and the economy. Ex-army officers are appointed to run state enterprises and high level administrative positions. More importantly the army has an enormous economic arm that runs enterprises as diverse as construction companies and food distribution chains. In the late 90’s this picture began to change.

It is no news for anyone following Egyptian politics that Gamal Mubarak, the President’s son was being groomed to follow his father. In reality, the elder Mubarak was never fully behind that scenario. Whether it was a real assessment of his son’s capabilities or of the acceptance of the army to such a scenario, Mubarak was hesitant. It was his wife who was heavily pushing that scenario. Gamal, step by step started rising inside the ruling NDP party. With him he brought two groups to the ruling coalition. First were the Western educated economic technocrats trained in international financial institutions they shared what is generally described as neo-liberal economic policies labeled the Washington Consensus. Secondly was the growing business community that was emerging in Egypt. Together they started the process of both restructuring the Egyptian economy and the ruling party.

For the technocrats it was the fiscal and economic policy that was their domain and they performed miracles. The Egyptian economy under the Nazif government showed unprecedented growth. The currency was devalued, investment was pouring in, and exports were growing. Even the economic crisis did not dramatically effect Egypt. The real disaster in all of this however is that no one actually rationalized or defended those policies to the Egyptian public. The country was moving towards a full capitalist system but no explained why that was needed or why it was ultimately beneficial. While such restructuring is naturally painful for a population that was dependent on the government for all its needs, the people were fed the same socialist rhetoric nonetheless. It mattered very little that the country was improving economically, people did not see that. It is not that the effects were not trickling down, they were. It is that the people were used to the nanny state for so many years that they could not understand why the government was no longer providing them with those services.

Businessmen greatly benefited from the economic improvement. Business was good and political aspirations started to emerge for them. First it was a Parliament seat that they desired. It offered immunity from prosecution after all. With Gamal however, they suddenly had a higher opportunity. Gamal wanted to recreate the ruling NDP party. The NDP, never actually a real party and more of a mass valueless organization of state operation was suddenly turning into a real party. Businessmen like Ahmed Ezz, the steel tycoon saw a golden opportunity. They took full control with Gamal of the party and with it power.

The army never liked Gamal or his friends. Gamal had never served in the military. To add insult to injury his friends were threatening the dominance of the army. The technocrat’s neo-liberal policies were threatening the army’s dominance of the closed economy and the party was becoming step by step an actual organization that competes with the army officers in filling administrative positions. Suddenly the doors to power in Egypt were not a military career but a party ID card. As long as the President was there however, the army was silent. The army is 100% loyal to the President. He is an October War hero and their Commander in Chief. He is seen as an Egyptian patriot by them who has served his country well. Moreover Gamal Abdel Nasser having conducted his own military coup in 1952 put mechanisms in the army to ensure that no one else would do the same and remove him.

With the unfolding events the army was finally able to put its narrative to the President and have his support behind it. The army’s narrative is that Gamal and his friends ruined it. Their neo-liberal policies alienated people and angered them with talks of subsidies removal, while his party gang destroyed the political system by aiming to crush all opposition. Mubarak in the past had mastered the art of playing the opposition. The opposition was always co-opted. Sizes in Parliament differed in various elections, but there was always a place there for the opposition. The last elections in 2010 were different. No opposition was allowed to win seats. By closing the legitimate political methods of raising grievances, the opposition chose the illegitimate ones in the form of street demonstrations.

Today the Egyptians are scared. They have been given a glimpse of hell and they don’t like what they see. Contrary to Al Jazeera’s propaganda, the Egyptian masses are not demonstrating anymore. They are protecting their homes and families. The demonstration last night had 5,000 political activists participating and not 150,000 as Al Jazeera insists. At this moment, no one outside of those political activists cares less now if the President will resign or not. They have more important concerns now; security and food.

So where are we today? Well the answer is still not clear, yet a couple of conclusions are evident.

1.      The Gamal inheritance scenario is finished.

2.      Mubarak will not run for another Presidential term. His term ends in October and either he will serve the rest of his term or will resign once things cool down for health reasons, which are real. He is dying.

3.      The army is in control now. We are heading back to the “golden age” of army rule. The “kids” are no longer in charge. The “men’ are.

4.      Until the economy fails again, the neo-liberal economic policies are over. Forget about an open economy for some time.

Immediately the task of the army is to stabilize the situation and enforce order. The security forces have been ordered to reappear in the streets starting tonight. The next task will be to deal with the political activists and the Muslim Brotherhood which now dominates the scene. It is anyone’s guess how that will be done, but in a couple of days the Egyptians will probably be begging the army to shoot them. Third stage will be to return to normal life again with people going back to their jobs and somehow food being made available. Later on however will come the political questions.

The long term challenges are numerous. First you have a huge economic loss in terms of property destroyed. The minute the banks will be reopened, there will be a run on them and capital flight will be the key word in town. It is of course quite natural that for some time no one in his sensible mind will invest in Egypt.

Politically, the army will aim at returning to the pre-Gamal ruling formula. People will be appeased by raising salaries and increasing subsidies with the hope of silencing them. Will it be enough? That is doubtful. The Egyptians have realized for the first time that the regime is not as strong as it looked a week ago. If the army did not stop them, how will they ever be silenced? Moreover they are greatly empowered. Egyptians today feel pride in themselves. They have protected their neighborhoods and done what the army has failed to do. This empowerment will not be crushed easily.

Security wise the situation is a disaster. It might take months to arrest all those criminals again. Moreover no one has a clue how the weapons that were stolen will ever be collected again or how the security will ever regain its necessary respect to restore public order after it was defeated in 4 hours. More importantly, reports indicate that the borders in Gaza were open for the past few days. What exactly was transferred between Gaza and Egypt is anyone’s guess.

You seem to wonder after all of this where El Baradei and the Egyptian opposition are. CNN’s anointed leader of the Egyptian Revolution must be important to the future of Egypt. Hardly! Outside of Western media hype, El Baradei is nothing. A man that has spent less than 30 days in the past year in Egypt and hardly any time in the past 20 years is a nobody. It is entirely insulting to Egyptians to suggest otherwise. The opposition you wonder? Outside of the Muslim Brotherhood we are discussing groups that can each claim less than 5,000 actual members. With no organization, no ideas, and no leaders they are entirely irrelevant to the discussion. It is the apolitical young generation that has suddenly been transformed that is the real question here.

Where Egypt will go from here is an enigma. In a sense everything will be the same. The army that has ruled Egypt since 1952 will continue to rule it and the country will still suffer from a huge vacuum of ideas and real political alternatives. On the other hand, it will never be the same again. Once empowered, the Egyptians will not accept the status quo for long.

On the long run the Egyptian question remains the same. Nothing has changed in that regard. It is quite remarkable for people to be talking about the prospect for a democratic transition at this moment. A population that was convinced just two months ago that sharks in the Red Sea were implanted by the Israeli Intelligence Services is hardly at a stage of creating a liberal democracy in Egypt. But the status quo cannot be maintained. A lack of any meaningful political discourse in the country has to be addressed.  Until someone actually starts addressing the real issues and stop the chatterbox of clichés on democracy, things will not get better at all. It will only get worse.

~ Sam Tadros

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Words That Shimmer

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Photo: John Williams/Flickr

We crave truth tellers. We crave real truth. There is so much baloney all the time. You know, the performance of political speech, of speeches you say on the news, doesn’t it often feel to you like there should be a thought bubble over it that says, you know, what I really would say if I could say it. You know, these people who I oppose, I don’t like them and I don’t want to work with them because they’re obstructionist, but I have to act like I want to partner with them because that’s the accepted form of discourse, but in fact, it’s not really getting us anywhere. Or, you know how I think of on things like, I don’t know, comedy shows when there’s a little ticker tape underneath it says “she’s lying”. That’s how I experience sometimes that sort of speech as well.

So I think, you know, I learn so much every day from being a mother. My sons are 11 and 12 and you see the way that children — they know when they’re being bamboozled. And they also are drawn toward language that shimmers, individuals words with power.

They will stop you and ask you to repeat a shimmering word if they’re hearing it for the first time. You can see it in their faces…

~ Elizabeth Alexander

Written by MattAndJojang

January 10, 2011 at 5:21 pm

Weighing WikiLeaks’ “Uncomfortable Truths” and Julian Assange’s “Scientific Journalism”

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Photo: Daryl Yeoh/Flickr

WikiLeaks’ founder Julie Assange published an editorial in The Australian yesterday. In “Don’t shoot messenger for revealing uncomfortable truths” he presents WikiLeaks as a moral, journalistic enterprise whose ideological origins trace back to Assange’s Australian ancestral roots. He writes:

“I grew up in a Queensland country town where people spoke their minds bluntly. They distrusted big government as something that could be corrupted if not watched carefully. … These things have stayed with me. WikiLeaks was created around these core values. The idea, conceived in Australia, was to use internet technologies in new ways to report the truth.”

Assange goes on to describe WikiLeaks’ approach as “scientific journalism” — meaning that anyone can read a news story and access it’s original source materials to verify its journalistic accuracy.

Assange’s view of himself as a truth-crusading underdog is not universally shared. Gideon Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs, argues that Assange’s world view is juvenile and oversimplified. Appearing last week on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, Rose, a former National Security Council official under President Clinton, opined:

“This guy is basically a crank who is an essentially old-fashioned anarchist…which is essentially an adolescent world view — that all power and all authority is bad. Well, you know what? Not all authority and power is bad. And these cables that have been revealed show actually U.S. diplomats trying to do the right thing in generally intelligent ways. So ironically it proves the opposite of what Assange actually thinks.”

David Brooks echoed Rose’s perspective in his recent New York Times column, “The Fragile Community”:

“Far from respecting authority, Assange seems to be an old-fashioned anarchist who believes that all ruling institutions are corrupt and public pronouncements are lies. For someone with his mind-set, the decision to expose secrets is easy… But for everyone else, it’s hard.”

Brooks goes on to criticize WikiLeaks for undermining the global diplomatic conversation — that when truths are leaked, trust is compromised and relationships suffer.

Is WikiLeaks in fact a constructive vehicle for revealing “uncomfortable truths,” as Assange argues? How are or aren’t we better off as a global community now that these diplomatic cables are Internet-accessible to all? In what ways has this latest round of leaks done more good than harm or more harm than good? Or is it too early to reach a conclusion?

Nancy Rosenbaum

Written by MattAndJojang

December 8, 2010 at 8:24 pm

Noynoy Aquino Fulfills Destiny

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Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III becomes the 15th president of the Republic of the Philippines.

The son of national hero Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino II and former president Corazon Aquino, Noynoy is “The new Aquino” who won convincingly in the country’s first automated — and fastest — elections Filipinos have ever witnessed.

A consistent topnotcher in polls, Aquino’s rise to power started after he reluctantly decided to become the Liberal Party’s bet after some prodding from supporters and family following the death of his mother on August 1, 2009.

The outpouring of love and devotion to the country’s mother of democracy convinced the unassuming Aquino to make a run for the highest post in the country, taking Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, a former presidentiable and also a strong contender, as his running mate.

Just a day after four of his rivals conceded, the ever-reluctant Aquino has refused to claim early victory. “My parents taught me to be humble,” he said at a press conference a day after the May 10 elections.

Amid the chaos of election day — defective electronic ballot machines, shootings, and long queues in polling precincts — the Commission on Elections placed Aquino on top of the race as it disclosed partial and official tallies coming from polling precincts.

The Comelec claimed that this year’s elections produced the highest turnout of voters and the “most peaceful” exercise of suffrage. Philippine stocks surged the next day, with investors relieved that the election passed without any major problems.

Aquino was slow to declare victory as after he received news that the Nacionalista party bet Manuel Villar’s decided to quit the race.

“Based on the partial election results, it is clear that I have significant lead over the next contender in the presidential race. I am grateful to the Filipino people for their support and to the loyal supporters in our People’s campaign who made this achievement possible,” he said.

Aquino will formally takes office on June 30.

The 50-year-old bachelor who drew on the enormous public support for his democracy hero parents, secured just over 15.2 million votes, or nearly 42 percent of the total, according to final results released by parliament on Tuesday following the May 10 election.

Former president Joseph Estrada finished well behind in second place with nearly 9.5 million votes.

A joint public session of Congress formally ratified the results and proclaimed Aquino.

His inauguration is scheduled for the end of the month.

The rafters were packed with supporters wearing yellow, the trademark campaign color of the Aquino family.

Wearing a barong, Aquino arrived at parliament surrounded by family and friends and was escorted to a holding room.

Legislators from the two houses of Congress approved Aquino’s election by acclamation, and Senate majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri declared him “the duly elected president of the republic”.

“It is now time to heal the wounds of the election. It is time to move forward,” Zubiri said earlier on ABS-CBN television.

Ironically, the 73-year-old Estrada held the record for the biggest win in recent Philippine political history when he triumphed in the 1998 elections with 39 percent of the total vote.

But the former action-movie star was ousted three years later, half-way through his term, amid allegations of corruption for which he was later convicted.

“I sincerely offer my congratulations to my good friend and worthy opponent,” Estrada said in a speech read by his son in Congress.

“I am confident that president-elect Aquino will fulfill his campaign promise to address the problem of corruption.”

For Aquino, victory is another chapter in his family’s dramatic political story.

His father, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, was shot dead in 1983 at Manila airport as he returned from US exile to lead the democracy movement against Marcos.

His mother, Corazon Aquino, took over from her slain husband and led the “People Power” revolution that eventually toppled Marcos in 1986. She then served as president for six years.

Her death from cancer last August triggered a massive outpouring of support for the family that turned the son from a low-key senator to presidential front-runner.

Aquino, an economics graduate, has said that fighting corruption, improving the economy and bridging the enormous wealth divide will be among his top priorities.

But his Liberal Party will be hamstrung in its efforts to implement reforms after its choice for the vice presidency, Mar Roxas, lost.

Estrada’s running mate, Jejomar Binay, won the vice presidential contest and could potentially be a destabilizing force for Aquino.

However, Binay insisted on Wednesday he would be a positive influence in government.

“I am a team player and I am willing to work with the president. Whatever is asked of me (I will do),” Binay told AFP.

The Liberal Party will also not have a majority in either house of parliament.

The Lakas Kampi CMD coalition of outgoing President Gloria Arroyo will remain powerful in parliament, and Arroyo won a seat in the lower house, where she could lead opposition to Aquino.

Edwin Oliva

Written by MattAndJojang

June 10, 2010 at 9:59 am

People Power’s Philippine Saint: Corazon Aquino, 1933-2009

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Cory Aquino

The arc of Corazon Aquino’s life lent itself to maxims, but two hard-nosed ones seem particularly worth pointing out. First, political sainthood is a gift from heaven with a Cinderella deadline — once past midnight, you are a pumpkin. Second, personal virtues are never a guarantee of effective or successful governance. What was truly shocking about Aquino’s tumultuous six-year term as President of the Philippines was that those maxims proved untrue. Midnight always threatened Aquino but never struck; and she was a good woman whose goodness alone, at the very end, was what proved enough, if only by an iota, to save her country.

The exact opposite was foretold by the husband whose murder she vowed to avenge and whose political legacy she promised to preserve. Anyone who succeeded Ferdinand Marcos, Benigno Aquino declared, would smell like horse manure six months after taking power. The residual effects of the dictatorship of Marcos and his wife Imelda, he said, could guarantee no success — only disaster, despair and failure. (See Aquino’s life in photos.)

But after a popular rebellion in 1986 overthrew Marcos and proclaimed her President in his stead, Benigno Aquino’s widow lasted more than six months; indeed, she lasted her entire six-year term. Furthermore, she retained a whiff of sanctity even as her government rotted, even as Filipinos worked hard to prove George Orwell’s aphorism that saints are guilty until proven innocent. As Aquino ruled, every month seemed to diminish the political miracle of her astonishing rise to power, but she survived. And her survival guaranteed the continuation of democracy in her homeland. (Read TIME’s 1986 Woman of the Year cover story on Aquino.)

The Philippines is still a raucous political hothouse. And every now and then it seems to return to the brink. But the dire days of deadly coup plots are over. Corazon Aquino died a revered figure, after an excruciating struggle with colon cancer, in a hospital in the Philippines.

Corazon Cojuangco was born into one of the wealthiest families in the islands. Fated to be married off in one dynastic match or the other, she was courted by and fell in love with Benigno Aquino Jr., a brilliant and ambitious journalist turned politician whose own family was as illustrious though not quite as wealthy as her baronial clan. The marriage would help propel Benigno’s career even as “Cory” was a cipher at his side, the high-born wife whose social ministrations at smoke-filled political sessions flattered her husband’s supporters. Benigno’s popularity soon challenged Ferdinand Marcos, who had been elected President in 1965. And so, when Marcos assumed dictatorial power in 1972, he threw his rival into jail. Corazon then became her husband’s instrument, smuggling messages out of prison and raising funds for the opposition. But as long as he lived, she was merely an extension of Benigno Aquino.

All that changed on Aug. 21, 1983, when Benigno Aquino returned to the Philippines after three years of exile in the U.S. only to be shot dead even before he could set foot on the tarmac of Manila’s international airport. Filipinos were outraged, and suspicion immediately fell on Marcos. At Benigno’s funeral, mourners transformed Corazon into a symbol. (Read TIME’s 1986 Woman of the Year cover story on Aquino.)

The devout and stoic Roman Catholic widow became the incarnation of a pious nation that had itself suffered silently through more than a decade of autocratic rule. Millions lined the funeral route and repeated her nickname as if saying the rosary: “Cory, Cory, Cory.” If she had agreed to let the massive demonstrations of outrage pass in front of Malacanang Palace, said Vicente Paterno, a Marcos official who would later be her ally, “that could have toppled Marcos.” But it would be nearly three years before she would learn to take advantage of her power. Instead, she concentrated on the fractious opposition, using her moral influence to help it choose a leader to oppose Marcos.

Filipinos saw her as that leader, but she declined the role until November 1985. It was then that a Marcos-controlled court acquitted the military men accused of killing Benigno. Marcos then decided to hold a snap presidential election to reaffirm his mandate.

Though hampered by the government’s near monopoly of the media, the Aquino campaign attracted millions of fervent supporters, all decked out in yellow, the reluctant candidate’s favorite color. And when Marcos cheated her of victory in the February 1986 vote, the outcry was tremendous — and his doom was sealed. Bearing witness to their political allegiance, the millions who crammed the streets to protect reformist soldiers who had mutinied against Marcos chanted the now familiar mantra: “Cory, Cory, Cory.” Nuns armed only with rosaries knelt in front of tanks, stopping them in their tracks.

By way of 24-hour cable news, the world witnessed four days of the military-civilian rebellion, a preview of similar uprisings that would later shake out the autocracies of Asia, Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. And then, in a sweep of U.S. helicopters, Marcos was whisked off to exile in Hawaii and Aquino was proclaimed President of the Philippines. It was a most astonishing political story. TIME named her Woman of the Year at the end of 1986, the first female to hold TIME’s annual distinction on her own since the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth in 1952.

To govern the Philippines, she would need all the good will she could muster. The country was one breath away from the economic morgue, while Manila’s brand of democracy was built on reeds. Aquino survived eight coup attempts by plotters who hoped to head off her liberal constitution and the return of a bicameral Congress. She took pride in her fortitude. “I have to project my confidence even more than some men do,” she said early in her presidency. “No one can say that Cory did not give it her all.”

Aquino was convinced that her presidency was divinely inspired, even as her political foes mocked her piety. “If the country needs me,” she said, “God will spare me.” And miracle of miracles, she proved God right and her critics wrong. She would be succeeded by a democratically elected general — the first to be at her side as Marcos threatened to mow down her supporters in the streets. She anointed him despite the opposition of her church. Indeed, Fidel Ramos would be the first Protestant to lead the overwhelmingly Catholic country. And he would give the islands a taste of stability and economic prosperity that she was unable to deliver. But without her withstanding the enemies of freedom, he would never have had the chance.

After the presidency, she ran a think tank and center on nonviolence that carried her husband’s name. She also every so often led public protests opposing the policies of her successors, if not her successors themselves. She led demonstrations to remind Ramos that she had promised to dismantle America’s bases in the Philippines. He complied. She joined crowds that led to the overthrow of the inept and corrupt government of the actor-politician Joseph Estrada. She also led protests against her former ally, the second woman President of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in the wake of corruption charges against Arroyo and her husband. Whenever the country appeared to be in a crisis, Cory Aquino rose above the bureaucratic procrastination that had always bogged it down, reminding her people that they once astonished the world with their bravery — and that they could do it again. But Filipinos must now take stock. Whom will they march with now that their saint has gone to meet her God?

Source: www.time.com

Written by MattAndJojang

August 1, 2009 at 9:25 am

Joseph Lowery’s Benediction For Barack Obama’s Inauguration

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The Lincoln Inaugural Bible

The Lincoln Inaugural Bible

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou who has brought us thus far along the way, thou who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path, we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee, lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee. Shadowed beneath thy hand may we forever stand – true to thee, O God, and true to our native land.

We truly give thanks for the glorious experience we’ve shared this day. We pray now, O Lord, for your blessing upon thy servant, Barack Obama, the 44th president of these United States, his family and his administration. He has come to this high office at a low moment in the national and, indeed, the global fiscal climate. But because we know you got the whole world in your hand, we pray for not only our nation, but for the community of nations. Our faith does not shrink, though pressed by the flood of mortal ills.

For we know that, Lord, you’re able and you’re willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor or the least of these and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.

We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that, yes, we can work together to achieve a more perfect union. And while we have sown the seeds of greed – the wind of greed and corruption, and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other.

And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.

And as we leave this mountaintop, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques, or wherever we seek your will.

Bless President Barack, First Lady Michelle. Look over our little, angelic Sasha and Malia.

We go now to walk together, children, pledging that we won’t get weary in the difficult days ahead. We know you will not leave us alone, with your hands of power and your heart of love.

Help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid; when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right.

Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.

Written by MattAndJojang

January 24, 2009 at 8:12 am

President Obama’s Inaugural Speech

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Written by MattAndJojang

January 21, 2009 at 8:29 am

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