Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Egypt is a false analogy for Taiwan

Not only do the conditions for an uprising as experienced by Egypt in recent weeks do not obtain in Taiwan, but going down that road would endanger Taiwan sovereignty, not protect it

Following weeks of demonstrations in Egypt that ultimately forced former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to step down on Friday, some commentators have suggested that events in North Africa could serve as a catalyst for discontent with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).

There are, however, a number of reasons why this analogy is wrongheaded and Taiwanese not only cannot — but should not — go down that road.

For one, the situations in Egypt and Taiwan are very different. Taiwan does not have a radicalized and easily mobilized political opposition such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which has a long tradition of opposing despotic rule.

The closest Taiwan ever came to having a “radical” underground was in the 1970s, and even then its tactics were largely pacifistic, unlike the violence used by extremist wings of the Brotherhood, one of whose most prominent former members is al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Even at its worst, the repression imposed on Taiwanese during the Martial Law era pales in comparison to that Egyptians have faced for decades. This is not to delve into moral relativism, but merely to shed light on different histories that, in one case, gave rise to radicalism, while in the other led to peaceful opposition. This is also why Taiwan today is a mostly successful democracy, while Egypt remains an unstable society.

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.


Carlos said...

If there’s any analogy, it’s with Taiwan circa 1947. 2-28 was a very similar uprising, spurred by similar reasons (even more so in Tunisia, where persecution of street peddlers was a trigger). Only this time, in Egypt, the military felt connected enough to the general populace to stay out of it.

I don’t see any connection to modern Taiwan at all. If we really want a president out, we have a chance every four years.

mike said...

"...some commenters have suggested that events in North Africa could serve as a catalyst for discontent with President Ma Ying-jeou."

Who? I haven't seen anyone say such a thing (though I'm not glued to the television and newspapers 24-7) - don't suppose you can spill the beans on that?

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...

@Mike: Not on TV, for sure, as Egypt has been oddly absent on that platform. Discussions in online forums, mostly, where the little Taiwanese youth that is politically engaged tends to lurk.

@Carlos: Well said. I'd say the only instance where it would be permissible to use non-democratic means would be in response to a non-democratic threat that risks undermining the very fabric of society.