Are you also allergic to strange juxtapositions of countries names, such as “Chindia”? Or perhaps tired of all-inclusive adjectives such as “pessoptimistic.” Such “words” mean little when pronounced and they leave an awkward feeling that will haunt you for…a few minutes. Well, I won’t argue that there is a such a thing like “Egyptina” or “Chiypt.” Even in an era characterized by transnational flows and powerful globalizing processes, the nation-state has proven resilient. Having said that, there is a field in the political science discipline called comparative politics. I will not go into all the features and details that make China and Egypt so very different from each other. They are just far too many. On the global level, we find the – for a true democrat and idealist – difference that the reigning hegemonic power in the international system, the United States, awkwardly and for geopolitical reasons support authoritarian-backed stability in Egypt but condemns it in China. But — if we focus on, and compare, some of the structural and socioeconomic facts about Egypt and China, what can we find?
Similarities between Egypt and China
Clearly, there are a few structural similarities beyond the obvious economic, sociopolitical, demographic, and cultural differences; China is an economic powerhouse and an unprecedented juggernaut, Egypt is plagued with a sluggish economic performance (apart from a few sectors that yield little new employment). To name a few governance related features that people in both countries are discontent (although arguably to a different extent) with and suffering from:
* Elite corruption
* A regime obsessed with social and political stability (and these are not mere clichés and mantras – it’s for real)
* Brutal law enforcement
* A security-apparatus and a police loyal to the ruling party more than the people
* Harassment of bloggers and Internet activists
* Harassment of Islamist activists due to fear of political instability (in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood, in China the Uighur ethnic minority of Xinjiang Autonomous Region). Recall the partial shut down of China’s Internet infrastructure in Xinjiang in July 2009, as a response to the ethnic tensions between Han-Chinese and the Uighur community in the region’s capital Urumqi.
The two T-squares
As it happens, in the capitals of both countries there is a thumping cultural and political heart of the nation, central to national identity: Tahrir square and Tiananmen square. In the past week, the standoff between civilian protesters and pro-Mubarak fighters on horseback and camels in Cairo (sic!) on and near Tahrir square have been nerve-wrecking to the outside world, witnessing national events of an unprecedented scale unfold – just as during the Beijing Spring of 1989. And just as in May and June that year in China’s capital, there have in Cairo been attempts on the part of the government to silence national and foreign media and journalists, such as the shutting down of Internet access inside Egypt, closing the bureau of the Al-Jazeera television network.
For those few Chinese citizens who are not completely shut off from the outside world due to celebrating the Chinese New Year, or because the only news information they get come from state-controlled censored mass media, and especially to Chinese social and democratic activists and dissidents, the scenes from Tahrir square is an agonizing ordeal, as there is the same ominous feeling of an impending regime crackdown on a broad movement for democracy initiated by young people.
The Chinese government need not fear any immediate ripple effect from a (yet to unfold) new wave of democratization flooding the authoritarian-ruled republics and monarchies of North Africa and the Middle East. They do, however, have social issues and problems that need efficient management though, youth unployment, rising inflation, astronomical housing prices in urban areas, and rising income disparity. And since the wounds and scars of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre have never been healed, the Chinese party-state takes no chances. That is why censorship of international news concerning Egypt is ongoing in China. The non-existing reporting from Egypt is a sharp contrast to the open reporting that characterized news coverage in Chinese media outlets of the US invasion of Iraq. And the official statements from China’s foreign ministry have been short and concise: “China is paying a lot of attention to developments in Cairo,” and other lame expressions of hopes that the situation will return (backwards) to normal as soon as possible.
The Tiananmen Square massacre is not just a national Chinese trauma though; it’s also a global symbol of illegitimate regime oppression of civilian protesters. As an official with the interior ministry in Cairo said the other day: “there will never be a Tianamen crack-down in Cairo.” It’s interesting, but of course sad for many Chinese that Beijing’s Tiananmen square has become such a frightening symbol across the world, including parts of Egyptian officialdom.
Expressions by Chinese bloggers and in chatrooms
From my roaming of China’s Internet in the past few days, there are not many discussions in the usually very dynamic forums that discuss international relations and foreign policy on Tianya there was nothing discussed concerning Egypt. I did, however, come across this posting on Daqi net, which testifies to the fact that many ordinary people and citizens also care about the peaceful resolution to the Egyptian democracy movement and a common perception of authoritarian rule:
天下为公人民最大。只相信有伟大草民，从不相信有伟大的领袖, “The world is one community, people are great. Only trust the greatness of grassroots, never the greatness of leaders”, http://shehui.daqi.com/bbs_editor/05/859017183.htm