Lessons from the Nile

Pakistan's political experiences have been very similar to those of Egypt.

Kamal Siddiqi July 07, 2013
The writer is Editor of The Express Tribune

The ouster of President Morsi in Egypt has been condemned in Pakistan. Unlike the Egyptians, who have lived more or less under one dictator, we have had a much more varied experience. From this, we know that the Egyptians may be taken for a ride.

Morsi was the first democratically elected president. He had the mandate. He also had his admirers in Pakistan amongst our emerging right-wing brigade for ideological reasons. And yet, this is not a dispute between leftist and rightist ideologies. It is between dictatorship and democracy, even if it was somewhat faulted. Many Egyptians claim that the exit of Morsi means that their country has been saved. Only time will tell how right or wrong they were.

Our experiences have been similar. General Musharraf was welcomed in 1999 by our chattering classes, who feared that prime minister Nawaz Sharif was turning Pakistan into his personal fiefdom. Who can forget the proposal to name Sharif as Amirul Momineen instead of PM?

But Sharif was an elected prime minister, who had the mandate and Musharraf, a military dictator. This did not seem to bother some Pakistanis. As a member of the Editorial Board at Daily Dawn at the time, I used to argue with colleagues over why the paper put Musharraf’s picture on the front page for three consecutive days and also how it portrayed him in his role as Chief Executive.

Egyptians argue that there are few comparisons between their country and ours. One writer commented to me that Egypt was a “civilised” country while ours is a hotbed of terrorism. Right or wrong, they must understand that our armies are very much similar.

Speaking of military takeovers, this week marked July 5. Who can forget the famous Newsweek interview of General Ziaul Haq in which he said, “I am a soldier and will go back to soldiering” and his promise of elections within 90 days. Seems similar to what the Egyptian junta is promising.

The bottom line here is this. If you are looking for democracy through dictators, chances are you will be sorely disappointed. We have seen Nigerian General Olusegun Obasanjo hand over power to an elected government in 1979 — on a promise made by his predecessor. But such moves are rare. Obasanjo then returned as an elected president — a feat that General Musharraf is trying to emulate.

But Morsi’s ouster may also have lessons for elected leaders. Especially in countries with emerging democracies. Elected officials have to work within a system. And when they don’t, they are likely to be ousted. President Zardari understood this very well and that is how, despite several googlies and bouncers, he played his innings for the full five years.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif perhaps understands this and has also learnt from mistakes of the past it seems. This time round, he is more pragmatic in his approach on how to run the country. It is a matter of compromises in some areas. In the past as well, his forte has been fixing the country’s economy and introducing pro-business policies. This is likely to continue.

For Sharif, however, the biggest challenge remains the country’s law and order situation and terrorism. Since his taking charge, things have gone from bad to worse. We are seeing killings and attacks on an unprecedented scale. This suggests that either the government is unable to take action or is unwilling. Both scenarios are worrisome.

A national security policy is in the offing. This is expected to cover a wide range of issues — from political to religious terrorism. The problem with such a policy is that it is hard to implement owing to the lack of coordination between the relevant agencies and departments. But a bigger problem is that there are some sitting in parliament — where such a policy will be discussed threadbare — who insist that the culprits are not those who wantonly kill.

Law and order, not corruption, will be the stick by which the Sharif government will be measured. And given the intensity of the attacks, one has to understand that the government needs to act quickly and decisively. If things continue the way they are, it is not just Sharif but democracy that will be in danger in Pakistan — once again.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 8th, 2013.

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Dr.A.K.Tewari | 8 years ago | Reply

Yes , it's sad but true that the change in existing face of Islam is a costly affair both in terms of loss of life and property . Cleaning form inside forces are very costly tnan outside , that is why some people in Pakustan has started to praise the Drone operation . Egyptian unstability is also the result of bad face of Islam and people are paying the cost .......??

Malik Tariq | 8 years ago | Reply

Very good column. The Egyptian Army is so obsessed with power that they had no problems butchering 52 innocent civilians just to clear the entry to Republican Guards Officers Club. This Egyptian Army has killed more Egyptians than their enemy in armed conflict. Sad but true.

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