Why Pakistan will not fail where Egypt has


But dangers loom large

President Mohamed Morsi’s end came sooner than expected. Elected with much fanfare he lasted just a year. His own people backed by the Bonapartist Egyptian army ousted him.

The enormous vigil at Cairo’s now historic Al Tahrir Square to boot out the tottering corrupt and inept regime of Hosni Mubarak lasted for three weeks. Just a three-day congregation of his opponents at the same spot sounded the death knell for the democratically elected Morsi regime.

Of course the military headed by Morsi’s handpicked Chief of Staff Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi played a pivotal role in ousting him. But as was evident from the size and consistency of the protest demonstrations against him, the Egyptian president had so soon reached past his sell-by date.

The developments in Egypt do not auger well for the future of democracy. The most populous Arab nation has simply failed in its transition from autocracy to democracy. With it the Arab Spring that started with self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit vendor in 2010 has somewhat soured.

The nexus between the deeply entrenched deep state backed by a powerful bureaucracy and big business never accepted Morsi. The Egyptian military, the biggest conglomerate in the country controlling 40 per cent of business activity, a state within a sate indeed, was not going to easily make way for civilian supremacy.

The Muslim Brotherhood leader intent on his narrow agenda failed to smell the coffee. Despite being elected by only 50 per cent of the electorate he did not bother to take the whole Egyptian nation along. In his quest to implement Islamic agenda of the Freedom and Justice Party he heads, he effectively divided the Egyptians along ideological lines.

In the process he tried to kill strong pluralist traditions of the Egyptian society and also trampled over the rights of Egypt’s strong Coptic minority. A disastrously failing economy proved to be the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back.

In a recent cover story by the Economist, the news magazine’s leader writer warned politicians of the world that a wave of anger is sweeping the cities of the world. It cautions that political expectations of a rapidly growing middle class have become more potent in the emerging world.

A case in point is that of Turkey, where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in more than a decade of his rule has transformed the country from an impoverished nation to an engine of growth. However it seems that the vibrant urban middle classes brought up under the secular Kemalist tradition have no stomach for Justice and Development Party’s conservative and authoritarian agenda.

Although the protests that started on May 31 have somewhat petered out, the aftershocks might cost Erdogan his job when his party faces elections next year. Thankfully, economic affluence and the Turkish military as an institution having been cut down to size in recent years have saved the day for democracy in Turkey.

But if the regime does not want to be hoisted by its own petard it needs to open up. This should include not only ensuring more freedom of speech and a freer media but also not tinkering with the urban middle class ethos of ordinary Turks.

Some media analysts have tried to draw a parallel between the crisis in Egypt and objective conditions in Pakistan. Although there are similarities but Egypt and Pakistan have completely different historical experiences.

The PML-N stalwart Mian Shahbaz Sharif as chief minister of Punjab with the PPP in power at the centre was fond of claiming ad nauseam that he will make Pakistan another al Tahrir Square to punish Asif Zardari and his cohorts for their acts of omission and commission.

Hopefully it was used more as a figure of speech to signify that the PML-N will punish the inept rulers once in power rather than pursuing vindictive politics.

Egypt traditionally has been under the yoke of one party rule backed by a strong military. Past rulers Jamal Abdul Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak were military strongmen. Morsi being an exception was booted out.

Pakistan also has suffered long periods of military rule with relatively brief interregnums of civilian prime ministers – ousted by the military much before their term would end. The only exception was the PPP led coalition that after being elected in 2008 completed its five-year term. Only a month back, there was a smooth transition from one civilian government to another elected one.

Hence in this sense Pakistan is now a functioning democracy. With a free and vibrant media, a fiercely independent higher judiciary and a representative parliament, it is the most democratic country in the Muslim world.

Despite earning such laurels the Pakistani state is still far from civilianized. The shadow of the military still looms large. In foreign policy, especially in the domain of India, Afghanistan and the US, it virtually enjoys a veto. Even economy becomes its concern as a weak and tottering one impinges on the defence budget.

Any civilian prime minister who tries to upset this neat apple cart will do it at his own peril. There is a lot of talk about changing our strategic priorities, bringing the intelligence agencies under civilian control, recalibrate our India and Afghanistan policies. But few will tread this difficult path literally infested with mines.

Zardari survived for five years by adopting a flexible and accommodating policy towards the military. Nawaz Sharif’s past record on this count is not good. Policies on terrorism and India could become his bête noir.

The Egyptian army gave a 48 hours ultimatum to Morsi to fall in line. Pakistan army in the past has not followed such niceties. It simply walks in without notice.

The only exception was in 1993 when Gen. Waheed Kakar as military chief drove down to the Prime Minister House and gave Sharif a 24-hour notice to resign, as he was not getting along with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan.

Sharif relented on the precondition that the president should also be made to resign and there should be a caretaker prime minister of his choice. Waheed readily agreed. But later Sharif realized to his peril that he was conned by the military, which loaded the dice heavily against him.

Nawaz Sharif in his first thirty days has successfully negotiated a US$5 billion package with the IMF. But the economy is still tottering and the much-touted roadmap for recovery is missing. Rampant terrorism that both the PML-N and the PTI naively thought would spare their governments is eating into the every entrails of the state.

Better relations with India with dignity at this juncture make eminent sense. But how much space the civilian government will create for itself will be put to test soon.

Pakistan will not become another al Tahrir. But dangers looming large are much more serious in enormity. The country is facing an existential crisis that if not tackled can devour the very state as we know it.

The writer is Editor, Pakistan Today


  1. In 1993 Nawaz was forced to resign on corruption charges and same happened in 1999. Zardari has got even worst record.
    The so called champion of law and justice and democracy SC is sleeping ?
    Or hand in glove with them?
    It does not take a genius to understand that they are unfit for any public position.
    The so called intellectuals like Najam sethi a tax defaulter and a stuntman will always mislead the public with his sweet talk. Such persons are really supporting them.

  2. You mean Pakistan is ONE of the most democratic countries in the Muslim world? How about Malaysia,Turkey, Indonesia, Bangladesh and, yes, Iraq which despite its challenging security environment is now recording an economic growth rate of roughly 10.2% pa, its northern oil rich region in and around Kirkuk in excess of 15% pa, it has a democratically elected government in place under PM Nouri-al-Maliki which is stable and is becoming increasingly more inclusive?

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