Capital suggestion - Dr Farrukh Saleem - Sunday, February 06, 2011

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It all begins with individual frustration. The milkman is frustrated and so is the newspaper hawker. My industrialist friends are fearful, alarmed and apprehensive. The tea boys at offices I visit seem irritated and disgruntled. The trainer at the gym is a lot more irritated now than he was same time last year. There’s anger on the road and resentment, animosity and cynicism everywhere else.

The next stage, more often than not, is individual frustration turning into collective aggression. That’s where Egypt stands right now. In Pakistan, we routinely witness spontaneous outbursts of collective aggression on the streets of Faisalabad, Lahore, Sialkot and Karachi.

Collective aggression can lead to one of three things: anarchy, change of government or a revolution. Collective aggression, in absence of a leader, means lawlessness, chaos, confusion and disorder. Sustained collective aggression can bring down a government. In 1969, people power brought down Field Marshal Ayub Khan. And, after the field marshal came a general; no revolution it was but a mere change of faces. The 2007 Lawyers’ Movement, with seeds of a revolutionary mobilisation, brought back a chief justice but no revolution it was.

In 1979, people power toppled the Shah and brought in a vilayat-e-faqih or ‘Absolute Guardianship of the Jurist’; now that was a revolution, a fundamental change in the power structure. In 1949, Peoples’ Liberation Army defeated US-backed, corrupt ‘Nationalists’; that was a revolution. In 1789, the Bastille was stormed and the French monarchy was replaced by a radical democratic republic; that was a revolution.

Revolutions are very, very rare but revolutionary fervour and revolutionary mobilisations are more common. Individual frustration in Egypt turned into collective aggression – and in absence of a leader – is turning into chaos, confusion and disorder. Powerful counter-revolutionary forces, including the Egyptian army and America, are now in play. It is in the interest of these forces to pacify the revolutionary fervour through a change of government without changing the fundamental structure of the power pyramid.

In Egypt, frustration is two dimensional – political and economic. In Pakistan, frustration is more economical and less political. We have an elected government, they don’t. We have a free media, they don’t. The common drivers between Egypt and Pakistan are inflation, joblessness and corruption of the ruling elite.

Economic factors leading to individual frustration that turns into collective aggression can bring down a government. A revolution, on the other hand, is made out of ideology – not mere economics. A revolution is about a motivating ideology, a revolutionary leadership plus a critical mass of the population that supports both the ideology and the leadership. Egypt does not have all three in place; neither does Pakistan.

In Pakistan, the most powerful of all ideologies is the sharia’h. According to Pew Research Centre, 88 per cent of Pakistanis support sharia’h. According to Gallup, a majority of Pakistanis want sharia’h “to be at least a source of legislation”. All that is missing is leadership. To be certain, the Egyptian genie is now out of the bottle while the frustrated Pakistani jinn is still inside. Would the jinn come out? Likely but not inevitable.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad. Email:

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