(First of a series)
LEO TOLSTOY, in ?Anna Karenina,? wrote, ?Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.?
In the face of the wave of popular revolutions that have convulsed the Middle East (from Tunisia and Egypt to Libya) in just a couple of months, it has become evident that unhappy societies visited by such upheavals (now fashionably called ?people power?) do not emulate one another.
They have taken different trajectories leading to either success or failure, or nonviolent overthrow of dictatorial regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, or a bloodbath, where the revolution, also generically called ?people power,? has plunged Libya into civil war.
The Philippines ended on Friday its commemoration of the 25th anniversary of its February 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution. Filipinos reminded the rest of the world, including the tumultuous Arab world, how relatively nonviolent was our revolution, but little else from which other societies (?unhappy families?) might draw lessons in transforming their autocratic regimes into democracies.
Our commemoration was bathed in recollections of nostalgia for that bloodless ?shining moment? of our history. The recollections came from articulate members of the strategic social groups (the military, the Catholic Church, the political activists of civil society), which played decisive roles in shaping the outcome of EDSA I.
The nostalgia trip was heady (the 25th anniversary was the most animated celebration of EDSA I since 1986).
But EDSA I?s nonviolent climax did not give us the privilege to give lectures on nonviolent political and social change, although it gave Filipinos enormous pride in being credited widely for demonstrating that unarmed people marching on the streets could topple entrenched, well-armed and oppressive rulers, regardless of their ideological orientations.
The ?unhappy people? did not receive ample credit for their primary role in toppling abusive, corrupt and predatory regimes in the accolades or credit-gabbing for the nonviolent outcome of EDSA I. They were the cannon fodder of the men with guns.
The revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya took paths that did not echo, and that departed from our EDSA experience. All these revolutions fell into the category of ?unhappy? families, ?unhappy in its own way? under the so-called ?Anna Karenina principle,? elucidated by Jared Diamond in his book ?Guns, Germs and Steel.?
My argument is that, in all the popular revolutions that toppled regimes in the second half of the 20th century, the people on the streets (the citizens) were the principal determinants of political and social change.
Rulers, their armies, the police, their bureaucratic apparatus and even their political parties took their cue from the size of the crowds on the streets when to step down or when to withdraw their support from unpopular regimes. The outcome of revolutions is not determined solely by people with guns.
Masses sway elites
The occupation and capture of the streets or public squares (Tahrir Square in Cairo and EDSA in the Philippines) by the armies of the masses swayed the political elites (the security forces, the business elites, the parties and the bureaucracies propping up regimes) to abandon their masters.
One of the critical issues raised in the recollections of the EDSA People Power Revolution was articulated by military authorities who formed the triumvirate or coalition of forces that revolted against the Marcos dictatorship.
The military sector, which perceives itself as the cutting edge of the deep movement to overthrow the Marcos regime, has sought to propagate the view that the military was mainly responsible for the success of the EDSA People Power Revolution.
The commemoration highlighted the contentiousness of the issue of military intervention in Philippine politics, which started with a group of senior military leaders that mutinied against the Marcos regime on Feb. 22, 1986.
Numerous articles by military officers, most of them insiders and participants in the revolt that widened into a civilian uprising, appeared in the newspapers.
These gave glowing accounts of military exploits in the insurrection in the wake of the revisionist attempt to put the military in a good light amid scandals rocking the military establishment involving its senior generals in the handling of public funds.
Former President Fidel V. Ramos, one of the three senior military leaders who led the revolt against Marcos, together with then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, and Lt. Col. Gregorio Honasan, head of the RAM (Reform the Armed Forces Movement), put forward the view that their breakaway from the Marcos regime sparked the four-day uprising that culminated in the overthrow of the dictator.
However, Ramos qualified his argument, saying that the EDSA insurrection did not turn bloody because there was a split in the Armed Forces that prevented the rebellion from being protracted.
The Enrile-Ramos tandem rallied the bulk of the Armed Forces to their side after huge crowds flooded EDSA and its tributary streets, blocking the movements of loyalist Marcos forces ordered to attack Camp Crame.
?What you really need is a split in the police and military ranks, when a faction decides to join the people in the streets,? Ramos said.
More nuanced review
A more nuanced assessment of the role of the military in a number of Arab states swept by popular street insurrections is now available, based on the experience in the overthrow of the dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt, and the civil war in Libya.
These postmortems contradict the somewhat superficial and self-glorifying views of participants in EDSA I in the glow of the euphoria of the anniversary commemoration. These will be examined closely in the next articles. (To be continued.)