Friday, 11 February 2011

The Eyptians Might Find a Lesson from Lusotania: The Peaceful Portuguese Revolution of 1974

As Al Jazeera English and other networks carry live streaming of euphoric crowds in Egypt, now that Hosni Mubarak has stepped down, it's useful to think of other countries and other times when the military has stepped in with promises to initiate constitutional reforms.

One example stands out: the Carnation Revolution in Portugal in 1974 when dissidents in the military, led by a group of captains, faced down the civilian government and won. Three people were killed in one volley from the Guardia Civil, but the transfer of power was extremely peaceful. Establishment of full democracy was a difficult process that took several years, but Portugal has come out of the process as an example of what can be done. As Kenneth Maxwell wrote in his study of the revolution The Making of Portuguese Democracy:

"...the Portuguese were able to create a representative and pluralistic system of government, fully comparable to the Western European mainstream. In the context of the Portuguese revolution it was Kerensky who survived, not Lenin. It was the moderate socialist Mário Soares who eventually became president of the republic and the radical military populist (leader) ... who went first to jail and then into obscurity. In this, Portugal was the precocious forerunner of the largely peaceful transitions from authoritarianism to democracy of the late 1980s in Latin America and in Eastern Europe."

The military in this case of was commited to stepping down once political change was effected, and this made an enormous difference. Let us hope this happens in Egyps too

For a stirring look at that transfer of power and what can happen when the military are the side of progress and justice, se Maria de Meideros's marvelous film, The Captains of April

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