[Viewpoint] Cairo’s message for Pyongyang

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[Viewpoint] Cairo’s message for Pyongyang

Fear cultivates a dictatorship. Fear produces a regime’s authority and respect. It removes the public’s psychology to resist. It is a displacement technique of emotions.

And instilling fear is a required ability for any dictator’s long-term control. Anti-dictatorship movements begin when the people overcome fear and experience an awakening.

Egyptians have destroyed their wall of fear. They have escaped the pressure of Hosni Mubarak’s iron-fist rule.

The Egyptian police enforce fear. The security and censorship departments control society. The public, however, is now no longer afraid of this authoritarian force. They have also lost their respect for Mubarak.

His solemn portraits were covered in a graffiti of insults, and fear and respect toward the 30-year-long dictatorship have disintegrated. The conditions for a political upheaval have reached their climax. The people’s massive rage toward the corruption, poverty and a father-to-son power succession are being expressed with no reservations.

The fate of the country now relies on the military. Egypt’s military is different from its police. The military is an elite group of patriots who uphold tradition and respect and while people hate the police, they trust the military.

At Tahrir Square in the center of the country’s capital Cairo, the protesters sat on the military’s tanks. The protesters chanted “Vive Kifaya! Mubarak out, we’ve had enough!” The soldiers just watched them.

The scene reminded me of the fall of Romanian president Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. The regime, at the time, had maintained its life with a strange mixture of public fear and respect. At the time, Revolution Square in the country’s capital Bucharest was filled with tens of thousands of protesters.

An order to fire was given, but the military ignored the order and soldiers joined the protesters. The crowds exclaimed, “The army is on our side!”

With the slogan, the 24-year-long Communist dictatorship ended with the execution of Ceausescu. Various monuments now stand on Revolution Square. One of them reads: “The army is for the people.”

On Feb. 1, Egypt’s military leadership issued a statement saying, “The military will not use armed force against the people.”

When the military refuses to fire, a dictatorship falls. That was proven in last month’s Tunisian crisis. Ending the 24-year dictatorship of President Ben Ali, who ultimately fled the country.

Behind the protesters’ strong sentiments lie despair about poverty and a desire for jobs. It was different from the 1979 religious revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran.

Islamic fundamentalists are not leading the anti-government movement in Egypt.

The wealth gap in Egypt is also extremely severe. The official unemployment rate is 9 percent, but the real figure is believed to be about 30 percent, with a particularly high jobless rate among youth.

Cairo is crowded with people without jobs. Traffic lights and pedestrian crossings are rare. Cars, bicycles and people are mingled together.

Youngsters using mobile phones while riding donkeys is a common sight. The strange harmony between donkey and mobile phone shows that democracy and the Arab world have failed to coexist.

Arab countries lack the experience of civil society and the odd harmony is breaking the conflict between politics and culture. So in comes the power of social network services.

The Jasmine revolution in Tunisia was just one example.

Among Middle Eastern countries, mobile phones are most popular in Egypt. The country’s young generation is used to Twitter and Facebook.

Using social network services, they have united in despair and decided to resist. It was a digital upheaval. History produces magnificent drama in unforeseen contexts.

Youth unemployment is a factor to be considered when there’s instability in politics. During the Korean local elections in June last year, many young voters condemned the Lee Myung-bak administration, mainly because of a lack of jobs.

In the 2012 presidential election, youth unemployment and jobs will likely be the core issues.

The relationship between Egypt and North Korea is peculiar.

The winner of the 1973 Yom Kippur War was Egypt. It was finally able to end the disgrace of previous defeats.

Mubarak, who was the commander of the Egyptian air force, was a hero at the time and North Korea supported him with weapons and strategy.

The Citadel of Cairo is a popular tourist venue in the city and a military museum dedicated to Egypt’s wars is located there. In 1990, the museum was expanded on the Kim Il-sung regime’s dime, so a plaque on one of the walls reads, in Korean, “[This] is the symbol of cooperation between the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Arab Republic of Egypt.”

The protests in Egypt will have an impact on the North.

And yet, the North Korean people are still chained up with fear. The Kim Jong-il regime is probably paying close attention to the situation. Egypt is the pivot of the Arab world. It is the center of the Arab world’s politics, culture and history.

Changes in Egypt will have a profound impact on world history, with 21st century history now standing at a decisive turning point.

*The writer is the executive editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Park Bo-gyoon
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