>It all started with the self-immolation of an impoverished Tunisian, Mohamed Bouazizi, over his overturned vegetable cart on Dec. 17 last year. Less than a month later, massive street protests drove out his country’s president of 23 years, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Yesterday, in a decision that was rare in its unanimity and the speed by which it was reached, the 15-member United Nations Security Council voted to impose sweeping sanctions against the regime of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi for his violent response to street protests. The sanctions include an arms embargo and a global freeze on the assets of Gadhafi, his relatives and key officials of his crumbling government. For the first time, Washington also directly called for his resignation.
Libya is the world’s largest producer of high-grade sweet crude and the biggest source of crude oil in North Africa, and for four decades, oil revenues propped up the despotic regime of Gadhafi. If he flees, he will be the third Arab strongman to be ousted in a span of just two months, after Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.
Like the 1986 people power revolt in the Philippines, these dramatic manifestations of people power in the Arab world arose from long-simmering mass resentment over poverty, unemployment, corruption, social injustice, and the human rights abuses of despotic regimes that want to rule forever. President Aquino is right: Ferdinand Marcos would have turned the Philippines into another Libya if people power had not kicked him out.
It was the President’s response to a comment made by Marcos’ only son and namesake, now a senator, that if his father had not been ousted, the Philippines would now be like Singapore. President Aquino is right; among the reasons for the 1986 revolt was that Marcos, after 20 years, still did not have his fill of power and refused to step down. Marcos and his wife Imelda are not likened to Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew and his wife but to Tunisia’s ousted leader and his profligate first lady, with the Gadhafi clan seen as the worst of the lot.
The fate that befell Marcos and the Arab strongmen should serve as a stern warning to corrupt despots. As US President Barack Obama said at his inaugural, they are on the wrong side of history. As in the Philippines in 1986, the turmoil in the Arab world is showing once again that oppressed people can only take so much.