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Portugal: Reflections on Egypt

O Egipto está mergulhado no caos há seis dias. Porém, as manchetes dos jornais portugueses ignoram o melindre da situação.

Egypt has been immersed in chaos for six days. However, the headlines of Portuguese newspapers ignore the sensitivity of the situation.

So said Eduardo Pitta, on his blog Da Literatura. The Portuguese blogosphere meanwhile, surprised by the wave of revolution in Tunisia and Egypt in recent weeks, has accompanied events attentively and has complemented the lack of discussion in the traditional media, relating it to issues of their country. In this article we select some of the reflections relayed by Portuguese citizens on the scenario of change in local, national, international and comparative perspective.

On the day of celebration of the 120th anniversary of the first Republican revolt in Portugal  - the “civic insurrection” of January 31, 1891, that marked the first visible step of a long movement to bring down the Monarchy, which would only be brought down in 1910 – Francisco Seixas da Costa speaks of history on his blog Duas ou Três. The link to the current situation in Egypt is easy to get, after reading his article entitled “O ocidente e a ‘rua árabe’” (“The west and the ‘arab street'”):

Ora a História ensinou-nos – ensinou-nos? – que todos os formatos institucionais que não sejam regularmente legitimados de forma democrática têm, a prazo, uma necessária fragilidade. (…)
Se a vida internacional não fosse uma coisa muito séria, quase poderíamos dizer que se torna hoje irónico ver o mundo ocidental a fazer figura de “barata tonta” face ao terramoto que abala o mundo islâmico: tanto se sente tentado a prolongar (sem o assumir abertamente) uma “realpolitik” que acaba por ser cúmplice de certas situações que (apenas retrospetivamente) acha intoleráveis, como aparece excitado (mas, lá no fundo, receoso com o que dai pode resultar, poque não dispõe de influência para condicionar o rumo das coisas) perante o aflorar desorganizado da vontade popular em certos Estados.

History taught us – did it teach us? – that all institutional formats that are not regularly legitimated democratically have a sell-by date, a necessary fragility. (…)

If international life were not a such serious thing, we could almost say that today it becomes ironic to see the western world playing the role of “chicken with its head cut off” in the face of the earthquake that is shaking the Islamic world. As much as the Western world feels tempted to prolong (without openly admitting it) a “realpolitik” which ends up being accomplice to certain situations that it finds intolerable (at least in retrospect), the Western world also seems excited faced with the disorganized flourishing of the popular will in certain States (but, deep down, fearful with what could come from this, because it does not have the influence to steer the direction of things).

No blog Cantigas do Maio, Aurelio Malva partilha uma imagem alusiva à Revolução dos Cravos, que depôs o regime ditatorial em Portugal - Estado Novo - vigente desde 1933 até ao 25 de Abril de 1974. Imagem editada por Miguel Fontes

On the blog of Cantigas do Maio, Aurelio Malva shares an image making allusion to Portugal's Carnation Revolution, which in 1974 deposed the fascist dictatorship in power since 1933. On April 25, 1974 the barrels of guns were decorated with the red flower. Image edited by Miguel Fontes

Revolutionary bloggers draw from the same ideas but extrapolate to the current scenario of social and economic crisis in Portugal, experiencing high unemployment – 11% – and widespread distrust in the political system. On January 23, presidential elections took place in Portugal, which had the highest abstention levels ever, with over 53.37% not voting. A recent study [Pt] showed that 58% of Portuguese consider their quality of life is worse than it was 25 years ago when the country entered the European Economic Community. Maybe for this reason, Elixir, at the blog A Especiaria, thinks that it would be surprising if:

a seguir às notícias que nos chegam do Egipto, as televisões [viessem] a abrir os seus telejornais com uma notícia do género: Registaram-se hoje, em Lisboa, graves incidentes entre a polícia e manifestantes da UNIÃO DOS DESEMPREGADOS PORTUGUESES. Os desempregados, sem receber subsídio há longos meses, pilharam lojas de produtos alimentares, supermercados e Bancos.

following the news that come to us from Egypt, the television would open their nightly newscasts with this kind of story: Today in Lisbon, grave incidents between police and protesters from the Union of Unemployed Portuguese were reported. The unemployed, not having received unemployment benefits for months, pillaged stores with food items, supermarkets and banks.

In an article entitled “Semelhanças situacionais: Egipto, Tunísia, Portugal (“Situational similarities: Egypt, Tunisia, Portugal”), P.A.S. of the blog Causa Vossa [Your Cause], also draws a paralel between the countries, illustrating it with a recent news story [Pt] on the lack of opening of job opportunities in the contracting of companies by the State:

Quando os regimes do nepotismo se tornam reféns de alguns, frutos amargos de corrupção e arrogância, os povos têm o direito e o dever à manifestação do seu descontentamento.
Quando os regimes de aparência democrática se tornam reféns da corrupção e de grupelhos  ARROGANTES, também só na aparência democráticos, não terão os povos também aqui o  direito e o dever à manifestação do seu descontentamento.
«90% dos contratos públicos foram feitos por ajuste directo»
Que diferença, então, entre o Egipto, a Tunísia e Portugal?

When the regimes of nepotism become hostages of the few, bitter fruit of corruption and arrogance, people have the right and the duty to manifest their dissatisfaction.

When regimes of democratic appearances become hostage of corruption and ARROGANT cliques, also only under democratic appearances, will people here not have the right and the duty to manifest their dissatisfaction.

“90% of public contracts were made by direct single source quotation”

What is the difference between Egypt, Tunisia, and Portugal?

In a more international perspective, Santiago Macias, of the blog Avenida da Saluquia, considers [Pt] that the focus of the debate is different:

Os filhos de Mubarak partiram para Londres. E a preocupação do Ocidente é saber se o Egipto resiste ou não à deriva islamita.

The sons of Mubarak left for London. And the worry of the West is to know whether Egypt can resist the Islamist current.

RAM, of the blog Frágil corroborates and asks [Pt]:

qual o sentido da revolução em curso?
Conduzirá ela a uma democracia formal num país árabe cuja importância está longe de ser despicienda ou, pelo contrário, abrirá alas à radicalização islâmica do regime?
É bom lembrar a recente subida ao poder de Hassan Nasrallah no Líbano e o regresso à Tunísia do líder do partido islamita Nahda, Rachid Ghannouchi.

What is the direction of the revolution under way? Will it lead to a formal democracy in an Arab country the importance of which is far from being irrelevant, or to the contrary will it open the wings to an Islamic radicalization of the regime?

It is appropriate to remember the recent rise to power of Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon and the return to Tunisia of the leader of the Islamist Party, Rachid Ghannouchi.

On the other hand, many bloggers distance themselves from these issues that divide “East” and “West”, as well as the “navel-gazing” vision that would like to see another revolution in Portugal. Taking advantage of the historic moment in Egypt to praise the richness of its culture, Kitris, on the blog Contra Ordem [Counter Order], says that Egypt is a “shared homeland” [Pt]:

Pátria comum do Espírito e de todas as ciências, pedra angular de todas as construções imperiais do Mediterrâneo, terra amada de Deus que nela fez conhecer a sua grandeza e a suavidade da sua presença, ali prefigurando as grandes religiões do livro. Terra escolhida para a fundação do monaquismo, lugar de vitória sobre todos os diabos, o Egipto é terra tão nossa – que ali aprendemos a pensar, a viver e a construir – como de qualquer outro povo que ali tenha vivido até hoje.

Shared homeland of Spirit and of all the sciences, the cornerstone of all imperial constructions in the Mediterranean, the land loved by God that in her made known his greatness and the softness of his presence, there prefiguring the great religions of the Book. Land chosen for the foundation of monachism , place of victory over all evils, Egypt is a land that is as much “ours” – there we learned to think, to live and to construct – as it is of any other people that has lived there to the present day.

Ana Paula Fitas, of the blog A Nossa Candeia, refers to the human chain that was made to “protect and defend the unequaled and precious Museum of Cairo where the history of civilization of Mesopatamia, of the Mediterranean and of Egypt keeps much of the best of Humanity much better than Humanity preserves the memory of these times,” and makes a final appeal:

Que o Egipto solte amarras rumo a uma democracia possível, desejável e justa para todos, capaz de viabilizar um Mediterrâneo de Paz e de Cidadania, é o que todos desejamos… para que a Revolução do Jasmim se cumpra – como o símbolo a que recorreu, colocando flores na ponta das espingardas… Não deixem perverter a Revolução! Viva a Luta pela Democracia no Magrebe!

For Egypt to throw off its chains in the direction of a possible democracy, desirable and just for all, able to make possible a Meditarranean of Peace and of Citizenship, that is what we all desire… so that the Jasmine Revolution is carried out – as the symbol the name refers to, with flowers in the barrels of rifles… Don't let them pervert the Revolution! Long live the Struggle for Democracy in the Maghreb!

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