Egyptian model doesn’t apply to Pakistan

Published: January 1, 2013

The writer was Pakistan’s ambassador to the EU from 2002-2004 and to the US in 1999

When the Arab Spring’s fresh breeze touched Egypt’s shores, it gave rise to expectation of far-reaching changes that would not only usher in democracy in a hitherto authoritarian state, but also be a catalyst for changes in other Arab states.

Admittedly, much has been achieved — the despised dictator has been ousted and parliamentary and presidential elections held. There is every reason for Egyptians to feel gratified at their country’s remarkable successes, for it has travelled a long way from the time when Hosni Mubarak and his sons presided over a corrupt and repressive regime.

And yet, developments over the past months have raised fresh concerns, both within the country and among Egypt’s friends abroad. President Mohamed Morsi — given his past political association — was already viewed with some reservation. But just when it appeared that he may succeed in gaining wider national acceptance, he went for an ugly power grab by issuing a decree that gave him unprecedented powers.  He did back off under public pressure, but pushed through a contentious Constitution that has divided the country, polarised society and galvanised opposition to him, which fears that the president is fulfilling the Muslim Brotherhood agenda.

What has deeply upset the democrats are some of the Constitution’s provisions, which would indicate a not too subtle marriage of convenience between Morsi and the Armed Forces leadership. Many of the perks and privileges that the military had been enjoying for decades on an informal basis have been incorporated in the Constitution. These include exemption from parliament’s oversight of the defence budget, establishment of a National Defence Council stacked with generals and the power to try civilians in military courts. In other words, the military’s ‘guardianship’ over critical aspects of policy has been sanctified in the new Constitution.

This has led many to suspect that the Muslim Brotherhood and the military high command may have even entered into an alliance. This impression was strengthened by the military’s signals of acquiescence with the strong-arm tactics used by Morsi’s supporters against the opposition. What may explain this attitude? Is it on account of the military’s diminished powers, especially after Morsi’s dismissal of senior generals? Or is it because the military is convinced that Morsi will make such a mess of the country’s economy that popular sentiments will ease their way back to power? Most Egyptians, however, believe that the discredited military recognises that the Muslim Brotherhood remains the best organised political party, enjoying support even amongst the soldiers. It was, therefore, willing to sacrifice some of its seniors to preserve its institutional powers, so as to bide time to recover its prestige. In return, the military has been able to retain virtually all its Mubarak-era powers, which would indicate that the generals’ gamble in ousting Mubarak and thereafter manoeuvring to prevent any curtailment of its powers has succeeded. Of course, if Morsi continues to make a mess of things, the military will inevitably recover much of its old influence.

In the past weeks, there have been references in Pakistan to the “Egyptian model” as a panacea to our ills, primarily because many  Pakistanis have been so disillusioned by the government’s  widespread corruption and poor governance  that they are willing to throw out the baby (democracy) along with the bath water (the government). This is, however, a misreading of the situation. There may be common factors between Egypt and Pakistan but our historical development and nature of our states could not be more dissimilar. The country has already suffered enormously from different experiments by various authoritarian rulers, but notwithstanding the use of brute force and state manipulation, the overwhelming majority has demonstrated repeatedly that this multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic state can only be governed by a freely-elected parliamentary system. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, the need is to recognise the value of our votes and use it to strengthen our institutions, rather than our individuals.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2013.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Satish
    Jan 2, 2013 - 3:03AM

    As an Indian who has Pakistani friends and is interested in Pakistan, I used to get a bit annoyed and disturbed at how Pakistanis always looked to Turkey, Egypt, Malaysia, etc. (“Turki Hamare Liye Misaal Hain”) out of purely Islamic loyalties, i.e., the idea being that Pakistan, the “Muslim homeland”, can only be modeled after other Muslim states or Muslim-majority countries. But then I realized it’s not unusual to expect at all — why not? The reasons for the Partition, the popular support for it, the two-nation theory and so on — it’s only logical that Pakistan would turn its back on India and look for Islamic models. Actually, I sincerely think that Bangladesh is probably a better model for Pakistan than any other. It’s now almost completely a secular state, has little sectarian or religious violence, and has a genuinely liberal middle class, that is Muslim but that has not gone on a mission to destroy and erase all evidence of its Hindu heritage. That’s the way to go for Pakistan, methinks. Become ‘Indusistan’, a secular state for the people of the Indus, the Darya-e-Sindh…

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  • Hasan
    Jan 2, 2013 - 9:21AM

    I am so happy to see the author finally write something on Pakistan! He is of course very knowledgeable about foreign policy issues and perceptive in his observations but he should also occasionally write on issues of importance to Pakistan. He is right when he says that the Egyptian model cannot be introduced in Pakistan. What amazes me is that two foreign nationals–one Canadian and one British– are telling us what to do. It would be better if they would spend their huge resources in their countries of adoption to influence them to have a more objective view of Islam and Muslims.

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  • Sarfraz
    Jan 2, 2013 - 2:20PM

    I am surprised at the level of support Qadri has received from the so-called educated class of this country. Wake up people; Qadri is playing establishment’s game. They want to delay the elections so that the system could be cleansed. All military dictators in the past have tried to do this and the mess created as a result is in front of everyone to see. The only way forward is a general election on time where people would hopefully reject the current rulers.

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  • Jan 2, 2013 - 2:31PM

    Look ALL Muslim Majority countries have a high chance of turning the Islamic way. Some may manage to evade it, but its always around the corner, like in Turkey.

    Egypt will go the Islamic way too, it already has with the approval of an Islamic Constitution. Now, its fixed. Egypt will no longer be a place of the Pharaohs.

    With regards to Pakistan, since its founder proposed a communal ideology, it will remain wedded to Religion. Coupled with the visceral hatred of their long time nemesis and the urge to be different from them, Pakistan will never be truly secular or pluralistic.Recommend

  • ishrat salim
    Jan 2, 2013 - 2:49PM

    @Sarfraz:

    Fair enough…but do you think these 2 major dynastic political parties will let others step in…?

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  • Mohsin Ali
    Jan 2, 2013 - 6:00PM

    Very good analysis. But we want change at all.

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  • cautious
    Jan 2, 2013 - 7:13PM

    When was the last time you saw Pakistani’s take to the streets to protest corruption, terrorism, or police brutality? That’s why Arab Spring isn’t going to happen in Pakistan.

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  • Mirza
    Jan 2, 2013 - 7:48PM

    A fair Op Ed by ET. A change is good provided it is in a forward direction. We have been working with the old used and discarded leaders and think they can bring in a positive change. A change for the sake of change can be fatal for Pakistan.Recommend

  • Sidrah
    Jan 3, 2013 - 11:29AM

    Egypt is an educated country with a great economy. Suez canal, The tombs, natural minerals etc. give in a very viable economy. Pak is a poor country with downtrodden masses who can barely feed themselves once a day. How do you apply Egypt model to us?

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  • Hassan Jan
    Feb 8, 2013 - 2:55PM

    @Sidrah:

    The economies and the education levels between both aren’t much different. Of course our population is much larger. Pakistan is far ahead in many other ways, despite the government being the biggest hindrance to our growth and prosperity

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