Well, after all, it’s a country with quite a revolutionary history..
Egypt Is the Next Tunisia. What Is the Next Egypt?
Gordon Chang Jan. 30 2011 – 8:26 pm
“The new wave of color revolutions has broken through Tunisia and swept into Egypt this year,” states The Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party newspaper, in an editorial released today. “Western-style democracy appears to be spreading, yet the affected countries are not comparable with Western society—these new revolutions are more controversial than those that happened in East Europe after the Cold War.”
Now that Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution has inspired Egyptians, autocrats in the region nervously watch for signs of unrest in their own countries. Most observers assume that the next Egypt is Yemen, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia. Yet as the Global Times editorial indicates, Middle Eastern despots are not the only ones worried. Beijing’s leaders are concerned that 1.3 billion enraged souls will rise up and tear down the People’s Republic of China.
China’s communists have every right to be concerned. In a world connected by optic fiber, revolutionary fervor not only crosses from one country to the next but from one continent to another. That is undoubtedly the reason why Chinese netizens cannot search the characters for “Egypt” on some Mainland sites and the authorities are censoring news of the distant upheaval. Beijing’s officials know that every resentment felt by Tunisians and Egyptians is shared by those they rule.
So it’s not surprising the Chinese are closely watching the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. China’s netizens, for example, cannot stop talking about the lone Egyptian who stood in front of an armored car last week. “Must see!” Tweeted human rights lawyer Teng Bao yesterday. “Egypt’s Tiananmen movement, a warrior blocks a military vehicle!”
Is there a connection between the events in North Africa and Asia? Like the Tunisians and Egyptians, the Chinese are losing their fear of dictators. “Many people on the Chinese blogosphere and netizens believe that the future road that China takes is like Tunisia,” remarked Chinese blogger “Twokeqi,” in a session arranged by the American embassy in Beijing. He and other Chinese netizens were peppering two American officials—Jeffrey Bader and Ben Rhodes—who were connected by a video link as they sat in the White House basement. “Does the U.S. government also think so and does the U.S. government have a strategy if this happens?”
Neither Bader nor Rhodes would answer either of Twokeqi’s direct questions. Rhodes, for his part, rambled on about Washington’s human rights policies and Bader talked about the American civil war and slavery in the South, so it is obvious that the pair were afraid of offending Beijing’s officials. Yet China’s citizens—or at least some of them—are not so concerned about the tender feelings of the Communist Party elite.
That’s a dangerous moment for autocrats, even if they dwell thousands of miles from the pyramids. When a people begin to ignore authoritarians, political transformations occur. The Chinese, for instance, don’t take to the streets when they are angry notes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. They do so when they think they can get away with it. “China has always operated to some degree on fear, and that fear is now eroding,” he wrote in 2003.
Since 2003, the year after Hu Jintao became China’s supremo, Beijing’s top leaders have done their best to make their political system more repressive, but they are nonetheless losing their ability to intimidate. As a result, Chinese bloggers, like Twokeqi, are willing to say and write some of the most subversive things. Twokeqi, for instance, need not call for multi-party elections or even freedom of speech to undermine the state. All he needs to do is to point to events in North Africa and declare those trends will one day affect China.
Societies change—or “tip” to use a phrase popularized by Malcolm Gladwell—because, at some point, enough people think the same way. At this point, not everyone believes they can send Hu Jintao packing, like the Tunisians did with Ben Ali. Authoritarian governments, as we know by now, always look invincible until a week before their leaders leave for the airport.
But Beijing’s lame attempts to suppress “Egypt” on the net—and the admission that “democracy” is spreading—make Chinese officials look fearful as well as inept. Because they are also making themselves appear obtuse and desperate, they are opening the door to “discontinuous political change” in the year that will mark the centennial of the first Chinese revolution in history.
Twice in their past—in 1911 and 1949—China’s people opted for radical political change. After the unexpected events in Tunisia and Egypt—and after more than sixty years of Communist Party misrule at home—we could see the third Chinese revolution this year.