COMMENT: Pakistan and Egypt — anarchy or revolution? —Professor Basir Chand - Saturday, February 26, 2011

Source :\02\26\story_26-2-2011_pg3_5

The fact is that people do not want to compromise on the right to choose their leadership, as prolonged, undemocratic regimes and dictatorships are nothing more than stagnant water, which spreads a bad odour and many social and economic diseases

The recent uprisings in the Middle East have involved Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Libya and Tunisia, and, for different reasons, Bahrain and Iran. This is alarming writing on the wall for all the undemocratic and prolonged rulers of Muslim states. The regime has already changed in Tunisia, and President Hosni Mubarak is gone, but the struggle for a political settlement in Egypt is still ongoing. There are many soul-searching lessons to infer from these political earthquakes. Many politicians and media anchors in Pakistan are predicting that the fallout of this unrest, demands for change and uprisings will also bring home a ‘revolution’. For any anarchy, uprising and, for that matter, a revolution, economic hardships and suffering are equally effective catalysts as are political suffocation and deprivation. Will the ongoing situation in the Arab countries really affect our country?

To find the answer, we need to analyse the political circumstances and ground realities in those regions and then compare them with ours. The people of Pakistan may find many commonalities with those regimes, like bad governance, corruption, inflation, unemployment and the pathetic condition of law and order. But if not the economic, the Pakistani political canvas reflects much dissimilarity.

Pakistan’s socio-political factors differ greatly when compared to those of Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia. Among those differences, the most important one is the prolonged dictatorship by a single person or his family. For instance, President Hosni Mubarak had ruled Egypt since 1981 as President, and as Vice President from 1975. Along with others, Muammar Qaddafi has been holding on to power since 1969, Sultan Qaboos of Oman has been ruling since 1970 and Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen paints a similar picture as he has been in power since 1978. In Tunisia, the nation only witnessed two presidents: since 1956 Habib Bourguiba, right after its independence from French rule till 1987 and, from 1987 onwards, one of Bourguiba’s ministers and a military head, Ben Ali, who held presidential office until he fled the country in January 2011 to save his life.

Tunisia has periodically elected its parliament and ministers. Strangely, as an exception in the Arab world, women hold more than 20 percent of seats in both the chambers of parliament in Tunisia. More amazingly, Tunisia is the only country in the Muslim world where polygamy is forbidden in the constitution. In that sense, Tunisia seems to be an enlightened and moderate country. This reminds us of our ‘dear departed’ military dictator, General Musharraf, who ruled the country for nine years, but all his moderate and enlightened views could not convince the nation for a subservient judiciary.

Dictatorship, especially a prolonged one, combined with exclusive control of economic opportunities is a recipe for disaster. In Tunisia and Egypt, the citizens of both countries had been scoffed not only by dictatorships but also a ruling elite that controlled every aspect of business and the economy through questionable regulations and webs of cronyism. The cases of Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe are not different in terms of socio-economic suffocation.

In terms of its economic situation, rather than political issues, Pakistan has more in common with its troubled developing Arab nations. The fact is that people do not want to compromise the right to choose their leadership, as prolonged, undemocratic regimes and dictatorships are nothing more than stagnant water, which spreads a bad odour and many social and economic diseases. That was the root cause of the uprising in Egypt. They did not have the hope and mechanism that they would be able to elect one of their own representatives to lead the nation. Therefore, they did not settle for anything less than the demand: “Hosni Mubarak leave the country and leave now.” Eventually, the people of Egypt got their wish, but the final settlement is still in limbo.

The political scenario and implications are different in Pakistan. The Pakistani nation has been through this turmoil and even ‘soft revolutions’ by throwing out military dictators in 1969, 1971 and 2008, and restoring the independence of its judiciary. In one sense, the Pakistani nation has done its duty of ridding its house of dictators, which is what the rest of the Arab nations are doing today.

Pakistan has elected its president with a two-thirds majority through parliamentary elections and has sent more than 1,100 representatives to represent it in the National and provincial Assemblies, by the direct votes of the electorate. Every citizen of Pakistan has the hope and guarantee that when the time will come, his or her vote will count, maybe not soon, but for sure in 2013.

Having said that, many socio-economic realities in Pakistan have common denominators with volatile Arab countries. Those common factors are poverty, inflation, unemployment, corruption and the pathetic condition of law and order. These are not minor issues; Pakistanis face constant problems with the supply of electricity and gas. This might become a trigger for a revolution or for complete anarchy.

I am astonished by the power and stamina of this nation that is living with constant load shedding of electricity and supply of gas. The unemployment rate, along with the energy crisis is unprecedented. Inflation and corruption are hitting their highest peaks on the graph.

The ordinary people can no longer be fooled with the 10-, 5-, and 19-point agendas. The political parties should thank the courageous media and the independent judiciary that have been providing safety valves for the survival of the existing political set-up. The people are venting out their frustrations through these outlets. At the same time, the proactive role of the higher judiciary is to provide checks and balance against the executive’s corruption. If the administration and political stalwarts, parties in power and the opposition, think that economic hardships, corruption and load shedding will not bring about a revolution in this country, then they should not wait for the ballot in 2013. People might already have had enough by then.

The bottom line is that hardships and oppression will not be tolerated. Whether a political body is held to the fire by the ballot box or popular revolt, rest assured that those in power are constantly being watched.

The writer is a senior policy analyst at the Statesman Institute and a visiting professor at Quaid-e-Azam University

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