Of irrelevance

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Our intellectuals, commentators and analysts are beside themselves with happiness in predicting that Pakistan will soon be Tunisia. With friends like these, who needs enemies? The democratic system has been restored in Pakistan after many sacrifices of the Pakistani people. The Tunisians cannot even imagine this. Even their oldest citizens have never seen a live functioning democracy. They were first ruled by French imperialists; they did get democracy after independence but it was democracy of the Middle Eastern kind. Habib Borguiba was undoubtedly a leader of the independence movement; but his style of governance was anything but democratic. Elections did take place, but like in the case of Egypt, the incumbent presidential candidate managed to bag 90 percent of the vote.

After Borguiba, Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali occupied the government. He had none of Borguibas merits but all of his failings. Borguiba was known as the father of the nation and people recognised his role in the Tunisian struggle for independence. In any case, he milked this sentiment to the max. Ben Ali had no good qualities. He acquired dictatorial powers, used them for nepotistic purposes and made all influential classes helpless. His family was unmatched in pelfing the wealth and resources of the country. Traders and investors lost ground in the war to make money. When there was a decrease in the expansion of business and employment opportunities from the trader class, then the poor and labouring classes also had fewer avenues for employment. On the one hand, there was the ever-growing population, the youth of which were entering the race for non-existent employment opportunities; and on the other was the devastated economy which was pushing even the employed into the clutches of unemployment.

No organised political party was allowed to flourish in Tunisia. Because the right to conduct political activities lied only with the rulers and its apostles ran the system of the country. From Borguiba to Ben Ali, nobody let any party form or work and did not even bother to organise their own ruling party. This is why the rebellion that recently took place against the ruling family had no leadership. It was a rebellion without an aim or direction. The mob of the unemployed youth had nothing more to do than shout slogans and cool off their inflamed emotions. Groups turned into crowds which then headed wherever they could and vandalised anything that remotely represented the government and played havoc with the governmental machinery. The police was badly unsuccessful in controlling this increasing unrest. Most of its personnel agreed with the protestors but its force did not come out in their open support as happened in Iran. The president then had to ask for the Armys help and then what happened is a familiar story for Pakistan i.e. a protest movement, the paralysis of governmental machinery, the rulers asking the Army for help, the Army refusing and then the government exiting the scene in a state of powerlessness.

The intellectuals that are then predicting us becoming like Tunisia are forgetting that we have then been like Tunisia many times over. When the protests against Ayub Khan gained momentum, he asked the Army for help which snubbed him and he had to leave the government despite him not wanting to. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was the elected Prime Minister. When there was a movement against him, he asked the Army for help in restoring peace and order and was categorically refused. He kept going to the opposition parties to implore them to save the democratic system with no luck. He was rent ineffectual so that the Army could go ahead and arrest him and this is precisely what General Zia did.

But we had political parties. Whenever a government has exited, the services of political forces to run the countrys system have been available. After a ruler was deposed, they would sometimes themselves occupy government. At others, they become associates of the military rulers that occupied government. Therefore, whenever a government has been deposed after a protest movement in Pakistan, political parties have always been an alternative option for power and legitimacy. Tunisia has nothing of the sort. It has been many days since the dictator Ben Ali fled. No leader has emerged to take his place. Because there is nobody who can and there is no party to come forward and provide leadership and direction to the people. There have been names of leaders in exile but it is unfortunate that none of their supporters have ever been able to organise themselves into a party. Because it was never allowed to happen. The rebellion in Tunisia knows neither its direction nor its destination. Nobody knows how the enraged public of Tunisia is going to reign in the disorder they have initiated.

This situation should be most worrisome for the dictatorships in Africa and the Middle East. Their public should be affected by the change in Tunisia. All these countries have anti-establishment political forces, whether in the open or underground. These forces have their own history. They have the ability to organise and the leaders available to do it. In Egypt, powerful political elements are active in the name of Islam and in a position to take over the government as well. In Syria, the Emirates and other countries loaded with oil, the tides of change crashed repeatedly against the obstacles of dictatorship and receded but never completely washed out. The students of historical process know that these waves will move ahead with greater force and determination and overcome these obstacles.

The change in Tunisia has increased the probability of change in said countries which is bothersome for their monarchs, maliks and sheikhs. The rulers of Morocco and Libya must have lost a lot of sleep because they share borders with Tunisia. Morocco even has a militant movement and Colonel Qaddafi has woven a web of terror in Libya. The same kind of volcanic eruption can take place over there that took place in the 50s in Iraq and Egypt. And even more worried than these dictators will be the American and European governments who are plundering the wealth of these countries. Not only will they try to provide security to their supporting rulers but will try their level best to ensure that their successors are not anti-US.

I wont be surprised if Western countries are gearing up to change Tunisia to present a new model of development. If that happens, then whatever government does come will function under the aegis of the US. Tunisia is far away from the process of independence and sovereignty. We have progresses along that path. Why should we look in Tunisias direction? They should look in ours.

The writer is one of Pakistans most widely read columnists.