‘You're next, Kim Jong-il!’ Korean Peninsula Watches Egypt

News of the Egyptian revolt has reached the Korean peninsula, and speculations are rising in South Korea about whether it could spark mass protests in North Korea where the population also suffers under an incompetent authoritarian regime. South Koreans overthrew their own military regime in the 1980's with mass public protest, and are voicing their support for the Egyptian protesters.

Orascom in North Korea

Chang Song-taek (L) and Kim Chong-il pose for a photo with Naguib Sawiris, Orascom Telecom Holding chairman and CEO. By KCNA (via North Korea Leadership Watch)

RosyScarf wrote [ko] in a public online discussion forum that Kim Jong-il would feel unsafe with the revolt happening in Egypt, since it is believed that the two countries have friendly relations. Egypt's Orascom Telecom owns a majority of North Korea's only 3G cellular network. The CEO of the company met and had dinner with North Korean leader Kim Jung-il on January 26, the day after the Egyptian protests ignited.

이와 관련 이집트와 전통적으로 가까운 관계를 유지하고 있는 북한 김정일 정권도 편하지는 않을 것 같다. 이집트는 아들에 대한 세습을 시도하다가 국민들의 거센 저항에 봉착하고 있는데, 3대 세습을 자행하고 있는 김정일로서는 이집트 국민들의 민주화 시위가 남의 나라 일처럼 여겨지는 않을 것이다 아마도 김정일은 이집트 사태를 예의주시하면서, 이집트 민주화 시위 소식이 북한으로 확산되지 않도록 외부장막을 더 높이 쌓으려고 할 것이다.

The North Korean regime who traditionally has a close relationship with the Egyptian authorities must feel very uncomfortable with the news about the Egyptian protests. The Egyptian regime faced a strong rebellion when [President Mubarak] attempted to transfer power to his son. In North Korea, where power has been transferred for three generations, the Egyptians democratic protests will not be treated as something that happened in a random country far away. [It will not be treated lightly] Kim Jung-il will probably take a close watch of events in Egypt and set the information barrier high to prevent the news from spreading to North Koreans.

In the same forum, GangPitDae said [ko] that North Koreans will no longer tolerate the authoritarian rule of the Kim family, who have been in power for 66 years. The regime is responsible for the terrible economic rupture that has caused millions of deaths from starvation.

이번 사태는 지역과 종교, 문화를 막론하고 민주주의는 거스릴 수 없는 시대정신 이며, 인류사회의 대세임을 보여주고 있습니다. 당연히 북한도 예외가 될 수 없습니다. 북한주민이라고 해서 주민들의 기본적인 생존조차 보장해 주지 못하는 형편없는 못난 정권에 마냥 복종하지는 않을 것입니다. 다음차례는 바로 김정일 정권이 될 듯 싶네요.

This (protest) shows that democracy is the irrevocable spirit of our time and is the mainstream of human history regardless of the geography, religion and culture. North Koreans will no longer succumb to an incompetent regime who can’t even guarantee them the basic means of survival. Next [to be deposed] is the Kim Jung-il regime.

To support this speculation, Radio Free Asia (RFA) [ko] reported, quoting an anonymous businessman, that many North Koreans have heard of the Egyptian protests via their cell phones and that officials are taking events very seriously. The report said that North Koreans living abroad had spread the news to their relatives and families in North Korea, and that they passed it on to others within the country via cell phones. While international calls are closely monitored, the inland cellular network is not entirely controlled. The report also said that North Koreans also receive the information by secretly (and illegally) watching South Korean television news programs.

When news of the protest reached South Koreans, many recalled the Gwangju Democratization Movement (or 518 movement) in 1980, a popular uprising in the city of Gwangju from May 18 to May 27. Korean citizens rose up against Chun Doo-hwan's military dictatorship and took control of the city but were ultimately crushed by the South Korean army. The army blocked all routes and communications leading into and out of the city and the official figures told that 144 civilians, 22 troops and 4 police were killed. However, reports by foreign press said the actual death toll was in the range of 1,000 to 2,000.

Blogger Amil12 expressed his support for Egyptians, as someone who had tread down a similar path in history.

이때 많은 사람들이 죽었죠. 이 사건이 없었다면 지금 같은 민주주의가 없었을 수도 있었습니다.[…]이번 (이집트)시위에서 최소 62명이 사망하였고 (지금 글 쓸 때는 100명 이상이라고 하네요) 2000명 정도가 다쳤다고 합니다. 여러분들 힘내세요! 한국의 한 블로거가 여러분들을 응원합니다.

Many died during the (Gwangju) movement. Without this protest, we would have never achieved a democracy like we have today. […] [In Egypt] I have heard that at least 62 were killed (now I heard that more than 100 people killed) and 2000 injured during the protests. Cheers, everyone! A blogger from South Korea is supporting you guys.

When Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak announced that he would not run for re-election in September, Korean bloggers wrote skeptically that this may not be entirely good news. Many have written that the president's withdrawal does not necessarily mean a breakdown of the vicious cycle of corrupted power as Korean history also shows. After president Chun Doo-hwan stepped down in 1988, Roh Tae-woo, a military general who assisted in leading troops to the Gwangju city, became the next president. This was widely perceived as ‘handing Roh the presidency’, and triggered large pro-democracy rallies again in 1987.

On Twitter, @Heyinbo who works in the media tweeted:

이집트 민중들의 피로 쟁취할 민주주의의 열매를 엉뚱한 놈이 따먹지는 않았으면 좋겠네요.

I hope that the fruit of democracy Egyptians have earned with bloodshed will NOT be picked and eaten by the wrong people.

According to a PTI/AP report today (from The Hindu website), Mubarak has said that he is “fed up” and wants to step down, but fears that the nation will “sink in chaos” if he does. While this may be true, Korean history shows that this kind of chaos may be necessary on the path to democracy.

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