Taiwan's Path Towards Democracy Could Serve As Model For Egypt
International Business Times
In January 2011, the people of Egypt ousted their president of 30 years and demanded a new form of democratic, representative government. Although the revolution resulted in the resignation and subsequent imprisonment of Hosni Mubarak, his sons and some top colleagues, Egypt remains far from establishing a true democracy.
Despite the recent election of a new president, Mohammad Mursi, the powerful Egyptian military still looms over the nation, casting a long shadow on the country's future.
But Egypt's slow and painful struggle toward a constitutional democracy is not unprecedented -- indeed, other 'Arab Spring' nations, including Tunisia and Libya, are embarked on a similar course.
The transition from dictatorship to democracy was also recently made by a country thousands of miles away from Egypt, with a wholly alien history and culture – Taiwan.
Thirty years ago (around the same time Mubarak came to power in Egypt), the Taiwanese initiated the path toward forming a democratic state.
Taiwan, or the Republic of China, exists under the oppressive glare of Mainland China (i.e., The People’s Republic of China), which does not recognize the island as an independent sovereign nation and steadfastly claims it as its own territory. Taipei is similarly not recognized by the vast majority of states, including the U.S., for fear of offending Beijing. Consequently, any discussion of Taiwan is intertwined with the PRC.
When the Communists under Mao Zedong gained control of Mainland China in 1949, the defeated Chinese Nationalists (Kuomintang), under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek, evacuated to Taiwan, along with 2 million others, including soldiers, businessmen and intellectuals.
Under the Kuomintang's tight-fisted one-party control, martial law was imposed on Taiwan and would remain in effect for the next 40 years (not unlike the state of emergency that existed in Egypt until this year).
While the Kuomintang continued to insist it was the legitimate ruler of Taiwan as well as Mainland China (earning guffaws and scorn from the Communists in Beijing), Chiang Kai-shek relentlessly consolidated his power on the island.
Under martial law, dissent vanished, with the state imprisoning, torturing and killing untold thousands of people during the so-called "White Terror" period.
The Kuomintang asserted that martial law was necessary since Taiwan was technically at war with Mainland China. Anyone perceived to be disloyal to the Kuomintang, or worse, pro-Communist, was systematically rounded up, jailed and sometimes executed (again, a scenario quite familiar to the tens of thousands of Egyptians detained, tortured and/or murdered by Mubarak's security forces and secret police).
The emergency law in Egypt dates all the way back to Gamal Abdel-Nasser in 1958, but truly came into force in 1967 after the Six-Day Arab-Israeli war. Except for a brief respite in 1980-1981, the law was reimposed following the assassination of President Anwar Sadat and remained in place throughout Mubarak's lengthy tenure.
The emergency law destroyed the possibility of any political opposition under the pretext of "state security." By taking away people’s right to free speech and assembly, it muted the general public from expressing their concerns over their own government. In the absence of such rights, many people became fearful of speaking out against the corruption and atrocities committed by the government. Instead of fighting for their rights, many became quiet under the system and grew apathetic towards politics. This climate existed -- in varying degrees – in both Taiwan and Egypt.
The Kuomintang were particularly suspicious of intellectuals as a dire threat to the power structure, arresting and murdering hundreds of them, under the pretext of protecting Taiwan from a “Communist takeover,” while keeping a vise-like grip on the media.
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