If I hear one more person ask me, in relation to the recent historic uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, when Pakistanis are going to rise up and take their turn in line on the Popular Revolution Ride, I think I might go Hosni on them.
That is to say, I might do some very, very unpleasant things to them.
Events in Egypt (and Tunisia , lest we forget Sidi Bouzid) are yet to fully play out, but what has happened in those countries is nothing short of historic. The popular uprisings, consisting not of political and human rights activists (the bread and butter of any protest, if you will) but of regular people from a diverse array of backgrounds (young, old, Muslim, Christian, rich, poor, devastatingly poor . . even the cats hate Hosni, for Christ’s sake) represent more than just popular discontent with economic policies, but, more significantly, the breaking of fear.
When a million turned out at Tahrir Square, their message was simple: “Mubarak, we are no longer afraid.”
The same was true of Tunisia, an uprising that may have taken its fuel from soaring prices and unreasonably high unemployment, but which was sparked not by poverty, but by a man not willing to endure insults to his dignity from a government purporting to be his own. It was a tragic, poignant illustration of something that most citizens in Tunisia had felt: a breaking of spirit from constantly being humiliated by government officials and members of the ruling party. A constant reminder not just of their disconnect from power, but of power’s utter disconnect from their humanity.
All of which brings me to the streets of Karachi, Lahore, Sargohda, Kohat or even Chak Shehzad, where I’m in imminent danger of committing a homicide if some well-meaning activist-type points to Tunis, looks up at me with her (or his) big, brown eyes and says, earnestly, “When will we learn?”
Tunisia and Egypt rallied against autocratic dictators who have been in power for, respectively, 27 and 30 years. They rebelled against single-party states where opposition parties are banned and activists disappear into the night if they try and drum up support for uprisings against the existing system. Egypt’s and Tunisia’s systems of government are simply transvestite dictatorships, masquerading as democracies (not that all transvestites masquerade..) because in the current world order, being an outright dictatorship is simply not done. It tends to get one invaded, for one.
Both Zine El Abedine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s former president, and Hosni Mubarak operate states where the security forces are feared and loathed. They operate(d) with impunity, above the law – which would still not have been so bad, if they actually used said impunity for good, as it were, rather than evil. But the security forces did not serve the people, they served their masters – Ben Ali and Mubarak.
And, finally, ala everyone’s favourite Arkansas-governor-turned-philandering-President: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Pakistan, for those who haven’t been paying attention, already has a democracy (a deeply flawed one, in some ways, but at least one that isn’t appearing in drag . . . well, alright, it wears an army-issue brassiere, but aside from that it generally turns up in the right sort of attire). We have an active opposition (some might argue far too active, engaging in populist rhetoric rather than actual policy making), and while the intelligence services do act with impunity, this has been changing (slowly, ever so slowly, with the current Supreme Court bench’s crusade for the ‘disappeared’ being an illustration). And, finally, we have no dictator: only a bit of an idiot who was elected to power constitutionally but two years ago.
Our government is deeply flawed, but in ways that are fundamentally different from the cases of Egypt, Tunisia and even Algeria.
Our economy, though, is in serious trouble, and you’ll get no argument from me on that front. Note, however, that while many will point to all sorts of reasons why the PPP won the 2008 polls, they often tend to forget that the elections actually took place in the middle of the wheat crisis . So, it can be argued, Pakistanis have already had practice at kicking out a government for letting inflation on basic goods run rampant.
So, to put all of this into context, consider this: in order for Pakistan to be Egypt or Tunisia, Zia would have to still be in power.
And I don’t know about you, but neither hell nor high water would have kept me from the streets if that was the case.