Pakistan will not go Tunisia or Egypt’s way

While the political and socio-economic conditions are equally precarious, there are critical disabilities in Pakistan.


Shahzad Chaudhry February 01, 2011

Look at both Tunisa and Egypt: Modern and fairly secular in social outlook; educated societies more developed in their worldview than many of their Muslim brethren in other countries. Also, both have retained remnant effects of the composite culture of their colonising powers, while the structures of systems of governance and statecraft were Arabised to suit their needs. Egypt, which acts as a leader amongst the Muslim nations, has a peace treaty with Israel — a first for any Muslim country — and is considered politically progressive when the majority sentiment in the Middle East remains strongly anti-Israel. The intellectual tradition in Egypt is well-founded and continues to provide the underpinnings of a discourse parallel to that of the Ikhwan alMuslimeen which, in its own right, has strong intellectual foundations with views contrarian to those of the extremist Salafi bent. Al Azhar remains a paragon of Islamic learning far different than any extremist strain that is doing the rounds of the Middle East. Such informed sensitivity at the social level, founded on a strong intellectual tradition, raises the bar of consciousness in  society, giving it a purpose and the options to make informed choices.

The negatives that these two nations have carried were Zine El Abidine, the Tunisian ruler of 23 years, and the omnipresent Hosni Mubarak, who has now ruled Egypt as a single-option kleptocrat for the last 31 years. Pakistan has had its share of kleptocrats, but they were saved from their omnipresence. Egypt boasts of a strong military and though all Egyptian rulers in modern history have emerged from the military it continues to retain the respect of its people. Pakistan, too, has a strong military but with a serious image deficiency; while it may be generally popular at the common level, there are always serious aspersions cast on it by the combined elite of the politicians, intelligentsia, the media and civil society. This keeps the military embroiled in a constant struggle for its public image. Perhaps that is why whenever it needs to intervene in national affairs, similar to what is happening in Egypt now, it does not restrict itself to the role of an arbiter only. It extends itself to a complete takeover to make up for insecurity stemming from partial public support.

Since the leadership of both Tunisia and Egypt is authoritarian, carefully nurtured around imposed personality cults, the leaders tend to retain a central core of loyalists. A single political party in Egypt ensures that there is never any opposition to the perpetual government of the man on top. In Tunisia, for a significant level of prosperity, El Abidine sought exclusive political power and this was accompanied by massive corruption.

In comparison, while Pakistan’s political and socio-economic condition is equally precarious, there are critical disabilities that do not enable coalescing forces that can generate a revolutionary momentum. To begin with, and as a rare positive, Pakistan’s political power is widely distributed, but in a negative twist, amongst the political elites only, who retain a stranglehold on all channels of national power, including politics, businesses, media and most societal organs.

A major gaping hole that stares Pakistani society in its face is the ideological space that lies bare and impoverished for want of any significant intellectual tradition. Pakistanis today are, therefore, not making informed choices, rather they base their choices on reactionary sloganeering. Intellectual discourse, which forms the single source of ideological underpinning, remains absent. The possibility, thus, of a secular nationalist movement as in Tunisia or Egypt is faint.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 2nd, 2011.

COMMENTS (17)

Jehangir Jamali | 10 years ago | Reply A more well thought out, and I believe, agreeable article on the same issue: http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/02/08/repeataftermepakistanisnotegypt
Ani | 10 years ago | Reply The author is an ex military man who served in the highest offices. His views must be respected since he reveals much about the military's thinking in national affairs. Image of the Army! Since Ayub Khan took over in the late 1950s the Army either rules directly or manipulates all matters of state indirectly but effectively. It has taken the country to war repeatedly on contrived facts and "muslim" machismo that failed the test. It single handedly led in the brutalization of its fellow citizens in East Pakistan and subsequent breakup. It refused to accept its own dead in war! It hanged a bonafide and popular PM and exiled two. It created a monster for its own people in its 'strategic' terrorist outfits. And without the consent of the people decided to tow the US line in Afghanistan not once but twice. The results are for all to see except the military. Till today there is not a single apology for any of these and many other misdeeds. This is what passes of as leadership by military men from whom leadership is expected. So what image is the honorable Air Marshal talking about. Last distribution of political power: he blames everyone except the organization that answers to no one, interferes in everything, owns major portions of the economy and allocates the choicest of privilieges on itself - his own darling military. And then the audacity to pointificate that Pakistani people don't respect the military like the Egyptians! No it is the other way around: its is the military that does not respect its own people. And the people of Pakistan despite the brazen and spurious flauntings of their leaders - civilian and military, will not accept injustice, intolerance and indignity forever. You can hear the sounds of the train that left Tunisia. It will be uniquely Pakistan's when it arrives.
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