Talking ’bout a revolution

Published: February 2, 2011
The writer is a standup comedian

The writer is a standup comedian

You know things are out of control when the Middle East starts protesting dictatorship. It only took that part of the world most of the post-Pliocene period to consider the possibility of democracy. To be fair, maybe countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan just wanted to make sure the rest of the world had gotten the kinks out of the system before trying it out. Now though, with all of Egypt posing in front of tanks and Hosni Mubarak having to consider the possibility of living the rest of his life in Saudi Arabia (hotels in Jeddah offer a free breakfast voucher to all exiled former dictators seeking refuge), it seems as though change is well and truly at hand. All it took was for a lone fruit seller to set himself on fire in Tunisia to set off a chain of events that might just see the largest collection of autocracies this side of Africa discovering the power of the mob. That and decades of authoritarian oppression, failing economies, crumbling infrastructures, rising unemployment and bottomless corruption. But chances are it’s the fruit seller who will be remembered. Not since Gavrilo Princip kick-started World War I by leaving a deli just in time to get a few bullets into Archduke Franz Ferdinand, has one man affected so much change with a single act of violent protest.

Mubarak’s fate was, of course, sealed the day Hillary Clinton announced that the government in Egypt had things under control. Any Pakistani dictator can tell you that nothing signals a fast approaching end like show of support by the United States. The last week has seen truly inspirational footage of impassioned Egyptians battling valiantly for an end to authoritarianism. Which will make their subsequent disappointment with the reality of democratic rule all the more depressing. It’s not all freedom of speech and cakes for dessert after the first free and fair election. That is something any Pakistani civilian can tell you. That’s our missed opportunity right there: Maybe we should advertise ourselves as consultants specialising in Post-Dictatorship Democracy. We know all the ways of doing it wrong. Let someone else learn from our mistakes.

Those in Pakistan getting too readily aroused about the possibility of a revolution here need to be reminded that we already had ours. We just recently removed our dictator through the agitations of the (increasingly ironically titled) Civil Society. President Zardari won’t have to worry about the ripples of revolution reaching him, largely because we can just vote him out next election. Our own Long March to Freedom didn’t have quite the same domino effect across the rest of the world because the rest of the world views us less as a source of inspiration and more as a slapstick routine that involves pratfalls, pies in faces and an ever-inflating sense of self.

Very soon Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, maybe Jordan, definitely not the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (their populace is too busy suffering the effects of endemic lethargy and tossing phone numbers into each others’ cars to worry about freedom and self-rule type stuff) will have to learn that while dictatorships mean an unrequested abdication of responsibility for the population, democracy means something much, much worse: Taking responsibility back. Their failures will be their own fault now. So if they find themselves persecuting minorities, celebrating murder, indulging in Olympic levels of corruption, killing each other in the streets, using religion as a means of cynical political gain, effecting economic ruin through a combination of negligence and incompetence, refusing to acknowledge the threat posed by extremism, using ignorance and fear to increase television ratings and not firing Ijaz Butt, they will have only themselves to blame. Fixing those problems won’t be as easy as a few mass protests. They require real hard work and time. Welcome to freedom Egypt. Don’t let it break you.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 3rd, 2011.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • parvez
    Feb 3, 2011 - 12:27AM

    You have the ability to make it funny and sad at the same time. Enjoyed reading it.
    If we have made a bollocks of it does not necessarily mean other will.Recommend

  • Robert Yuna
    Feb 3, 2011 - 1:06AM

    Wonderful column, Sami. Recommend

  • ali
    Feb 3, 2011 - 1:28AM


  • Akram Nawaz
    Feb 3, 2011 - 5:34AM

    No matter what you say, you have to give it to this guy for perseverance. Even if a thousand people don’t find him funny he’ll ignore them all and keep on trying. That is the sign of success. In a few hundred columns he might actually be funnyRecommend

  • Mp
    Feb 3, 2011 - 6:32AM

    Lol. Nicely written. Indeed democracy is not a piece of cake. But political choices have a lot to do with the education level of the public, and I think Egypt has the upper hand in that case.

    Also, there are many in Egypt who would like Hosni Mubarak to stay in power and not abandon the country, although this view is not being highlighted in the media. It would be interesting to read an article that brings the other side to light as well.Recommend

  • Mohammed Sumair kolia
    Feb 3, 2011 - 6:46AM

    I’m tired of giving speeches, I’m running out of things to say by HOSNI Mubarak on twitter @ 6.47am PSTRecommend

  • Adi
    Feb 3, 2011 - 10:26AM

    Great work sami….if the democracy in Tunisia and Egypt means the increase in price of roti from Rs2 to Rs. 7 then i think they are wasting their time….as few thousands did in pakistan in 2007-08.Recommend

  • samar
    Feb 3, 2011 - 10:29AM

    just lovelyRecommend

  • samar
    Feb 3, 2011 - 10:30AM

    just accurate, lovely and lively.Recommend

  • Sadaf
    Feb 3, 2011 - 2:28PM

    Good article! I especially liked the part about democracy meaning taking responsibility.Recommend

  • Feb 3, 2011 - 2:32PM

    on the money!Recommend

  • Farheen Hussain
    Feb 3, 2011 - 3:58PM

    You write well, you’re a funny guy but you’ve made a career out of being cynical. Its good for witty prose but doesn’t inspire action.Recommend

  • Mouzma Amanullah
    Feb 3, 2011 - 8:04PM

    Excellent piece! Keep ’em coming, Mr.Sami Shah! Recommend

  • murassa sanaullah
    Feb 3, 2011 - 10:05PM

    good piece of work. these so called revolutions only bring choas and violence. the most attractive revolution of our so called revolutionist was the french revolution ,which brought a great deal of violence.many innocent were killed.the muslims favourite iranian revolution is now cinsidered to be not so demcratic.i think slow and steady changes are the best.Recommend

  • Gen Mushu
    Feb 3, 2011 - 10:08PM

    my sentiments exactly..Recommend

  • Alsahdiq
    Feb 3, 2011 - 10:31PM

    There have been just too many bloody revolutions in the world. The people even then failed to achieve anything through such violent struggles.
    Change will come for the people only when they will endeavour to bring about change in their habits and outlook. Everyone seeking a change must change his/her habit by giving top priority to doing justice and by inducing others to do the same. In deed everyone must launch a campaign to urge people to make upholding justice at all the time.their habit.
    To regard and treat the fellow human exactly the way one would like to be treated by others is to do justice. Such good habit will certainly pave the way for people to organise to come together regularly in the localities where they live.
    With the practice of justice becoming very common in peoples’ habits, comng together to look after each other and to work to create a just, caring, welfare and responsible society will open the way for the people to become capable of meeting all the challenges of life.Recommend

  • Aamir
    Feb 3, 2011 - 11:21PM

    Thoroughly entertaining and thought provoking. I would highlight that perhaps the difference between our long march and protestors in Egypt and Tunisia were that in our case, there was an alignment of political parties and civil groups, whereas in Egypt and Tunisia, protests have normally been led by disenfranchised populace not aligned under anything other than the feeling of disservice by their leadership.Recommend

  • Haseeb
    Feb 4, 2011 - 12:23AM

    When most people talk about “Revolution” they talk about the following two definitions accordingly to Merriam-Webster:
    1) activity or movement designed to effect fundamental changes in the socioeconomic situation
    2) a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something : a change of paradigm .
    Just change of government is not good enough. We need to change the fundamentals of Pakistan’s socioeconomic makeup starting with removal of all sardars and jagir-dars. Just likewhat India did at the time of partition. It was a mistake that we did not do it at that time but it is long overdue. Without it we will never get the democracy right in Pakistan and it will always be dominated by waderas..
    We need to change the archaic civil laws from the days of East-India Company raj and bring new ones to encourage trade and industry. We need new education system to educate next generations properly. And above all, we need the justice system which gives access to justice to the poorest of Pakistanis without fear of landlords, thugs, sardars or bribes. That is the revolution Pakistan needs at this time.Recommend

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