Monday, February 14, 2011

Egyptian revolution must inspire people power in Sarawak

Taib has been around for 30 years and has amassed enormous wealth while the people of Sarawak and the indigenous communities live in squalor.

By Charles Santiago

We saw images of people in Tahrir Square crying, laughing, kneeling and kissing the ground as news of Egypt’s dictator, Hosni Mubarak’s, resignation spread. Pro-democracy supporters around the world cheered on to celebrate a revolution.

The end of the 82-year-old man’s autocratic rule is a victory for peoples’ power. Three hundred people died in the quest for freedom. Essentially the protests were not just about escalating prices and poverty but signal the need for the people to regain their democratic rights and dignity

As a mother of two, Olfa Tantawi, wrote: “This revolution is not just about poverty or need. The people on the streets are from all walks of life, rich and poor and are there because they want freedom. The people need a guarantee that whoever rules will at the end of the day, month, year go back to his home knowing that his initial identity is as an Egyptian citizen and not an everlasting ruler”.

I too celebrate this historic event, hoping it paves the way for a democratic rule in Egypt. Through sheer determination and willpower hundreds of thousands of protesters gave Mubarak, a man who had shamelessly done all of US and Israel’s bidding in return for billions in military aid, the boot.

Mubarak is gone. He has fled to Sharm-el-Sheikh, a Western-style holiday resort on the Red Sea.

But what exactly does the transition of power to the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces mean? It simply means that Egypt, which has been under a state of emergency for the past 30 years, would continue to be ruled by the military.

On top of this, the role of Vice President Omar Suleiman is vague, to say the least. According to WikiLeaks and prominent army families in Egypt, Israel was lobbying Washington to ensure Suleiman was promoted to the presidency.

Suleiman was an army man just like Mubarak and collaborated with the CIA in extraordinary rendition programs during the United States war on terror. When Americans wanted to use the crudest torture techniques, their first stop was Egypt.

Former Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mohamed ElBaradei, has expressed confidence that the army would reach out to the wider spectrum of the Egyptian society and allow opposition parties the co-sharing of power for a transitional period.

This is too soon to tell. And furthermore who would curb the power of the army?

Closer to home

The people who took to the streets braving military tanks and live bullets had not just called for the departure of Mubarak, but also the formation of democratic institutions.

Therefore, the army must call for elections without undue delay. The people must be given the right to vote the next government in.

Egypt needs the establishment of a constitution that guarantees freedom and human rights and a civilian-led government voted in by the people, which would look into equal distribution of wealth, create employment opportunities and make health and education affordable for all.

While its clear that Egyptians would now embark on a path for democracy, millions outside their country are inspired by Mubarak’s toppling from power.

Freedom for Palestinians is no more academic but a future reality. It is now even more possible to pressure Israel to lift the blockade imposed on the Gaza strip, a restriction which has plunged 1.5 million people into abject poverty.

Children have no choice but to scavenge for food on the streets and hospitals are turning away the terminally ill due to the lack of hospitals beds and medical supplies.

The Israeli government has only allowed a trickle of food, medicine and fuel into Gaza.

But all this could change within the blink of an eye just like the fall of Mubarak.

Closer to home, we have also seen the affects of the Egyptian uprising. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has warned that similar protests would not shake Umno and the ruling Barisan Nasional government which protect cronies, allow for rampant corruption, marginalize the poor, care two hoots about judicial independence and use various laws to curb dissent and freedom of speech, expression and assembly in the country.

The fact that Najib has issued such a warning demonstrates he is afraid of peoples power.

Malaysians are fed-up with the government which has hoodwinked them for 53 years, played money politics to hold on to power and allowed for the abuse of power by the police and various government bodies.

The Egyptian revolution also gives a glimmer of hope for the people of Sarawak who have been oppressed under the tyranny of its billionaire chief minister Abdul Taib Mahmud.

People power in Sarawak

Taib has also been around for 30 years and the aging politician and his Barisan Nasional cronies have amassed enormous wealth, while the people of Sarawak and the indigenous communities live in squalor.

The involvement of Taib and his family with logging companies has resulted in corruption, bribery and transfer pricing where the financial details of transnational logging companies, including Malaysian companies, are difficult to track.

In 2007, the Japan Times reported that nine Japanese shipping companies, which transported timber from Sarawk, had failed to report 1.1 billion yen in income over a period of seven years.

The report also said that the money was paid as kickbacks to Sarawak officials via a Hong Kong agent linked to Taib’s family.

To keep his income from the timber industry, Taib’s administration has ignored the rape of the Penan women by workers and timber company bosses.

Due to heavy logging less that 10% of Sarawak’s primary forests remain, wiping out the ancestral lands of indigenous communities.

Taib continues to make money through Cahaya Mata Sarawak Berhad, a company controlled by his family, which was awarded government contracts to maintain and construct roads in Sarawak, upgrade airports and supply roofing materials for low-cost housing projects.

Furthermore, a total of 51 dams may be constructed by 2037, further displacing indigenous communities.

But despite rampant corruption, flagrant abuse of power and personal assets that run into billions of dollars, Taib refuses to budge from power.

Quoting media reports, Taib has said he would step down if there is someone qualified to take over.

Maybe he means someone equally corrupt; someone who’s loyalty to Taib could be bought. This is shameful.

But all is not lost. The Sarawak state polls would be held soon. Inspired by the revolution in Egypt lets hope that the people of Sarawak would use their voting power to rise up against Taib and instead vote in a transparent and accountable government.

Charles Santiago is DAP’s Member of Parliament for Klang.

Taken from Free Malaysia Today.

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