Friday, February 18, 2011

The Great Arab Revolt - Part I

Apologies for the disappearing act from all of us. One thing or another has kept us occupied and unable to sit down to post. There's a bunch of stuff we have wanted to post on which hopefully we'll get round to. I myself have been particularly mulling over the Great Arab Revolt taking place over the last few weeks, about why what we are seeing is not a 'Revolution' (at least not yet), about what a comparative study of upheavals in modern history indicates about the implications for Pakistan, and why I think most analysts have mistaken at least one important aspect of the causes of this social change.

But for now I just wanted to draw your attention to an article in the International Herald Tribune today which makes for fascinating reading for Pakistanis as well. As we all know by now, the youthful protestors in Egypt who toppled President Hosni Mubarak had one stance that many of us in Pakistan found hard to relate to: their apparent respect and adulation for the military in Egypt. To be sure, the Egyptian army's "neutral" stance helped ensure that the Egyptian protesters were not mercilessly slaughtered in the streets and probably played a large part in forcing Mubarak to reconsider his adamant stance that he would cling on to power. But still, protesters needing to keep the military on their side as a tactical manoeuvre and reiterating continued praise for the army as 'the most respected institution in Egypt' are two very different things.

Many were lulled into believing fundamental differences between the perceptions and structure of the military in the two countries. But consider the following paras from the report titled 'Egyptians Say Military Discourages an Open Economy':

"The Egyptian military defends the country, but it also runs day care centers and beach resorts. Its divisions make television sets, jeeps, washing machines, wooden furniture and olive oil, as well as bottled water under a brand reportedly named after a general’s daughter, Safi.

From this vast web of businesses, the military pays no taxes, employs conscripted labor, buys public land on favorable terms and discloses nothing to Parliament or the public.

Since the ouster last week of President Hosni Mubarak, of course, the military also runs the government. And some scholars, economists and business groups say it has already begun taking steps to protect the privileges of its gated economy, discouraging changes that some argue are crucial if Egypt is to emerge as a more stable, prosperous country.

“Protecting its businesses from scrutiny and accountability is a red line the military will draw,” said Robert Springborg, an expert on Egypt’s military at the Naval Postgraduate School. “And that means there can be no meaningful civilian oversight.”"

Sounds familiar doesn't it? (In case it doesn't, try re-reading Ayesha Siddiqa's book Military Inc.) Then consider the following, also from the same report:

"Moreover, the military’s power to guide policy is, at the moment, unchecked. The military has invited no civilian input into the transitional government, and it has enjoyed such a surge in prestige since it helped usher out Mr. Mubarak that almost no one in the opposition is criticizing it.

“We trust them,” said Walid Rachid, a member of the April 6 Youth Movement that helped set off the revolt. “Because of the army our revolution has become safe.”"

So my questions are: are the youth activists of Egypt unaware of this structural issue of Egypt's political economy? Or if they are aware, have they chosen to ignore it? And if they ignore it deliberately, what does that say about the class structure and political aims of the youth movement? Alternatively, if it is indeed merely a tactical ploy to ignore it, how much longer can they afford to do so? Perhaps, rather than Pakistanis looking to Egypt for understanding on how to build a movement, Egyptians could also do worse than looking at Pakistan's history to understand why movements for real social change have failed.


Jawad said...

I suspect that it is indeed a revolution in Egypt. The protesters are trying to woo the lower ranks of the military, but they have very carefully elected to confront the high brass head-on. Dont forget that Mubarak and Omar Sulieman ARE the military.

In the end if Egyptian civil/secular society ends up carving up as much breathing room as they have in Pakistan or Turkey, they would have won. Remember that the military-industrial complex is completely unchecked even in the US.

Jawad said...

on a lighter note, if Egyptians were like us, they would feel sorry for Mubarak and elect him in a free election this fall.

Rhazes said...

The optimistic way of looking at this is that Egypt has just taken the first step. Slowly, and surely change will come.

Remember, it took decades for Turkey to reduce the role of army in politics and other sphere of national life.

PissedOffPaki said...

You need a civilian government before you can have civilian oversight of the military. The Egyptians just need to tread carefully for now - it is a gradual process, you can't overthrow an institution that has its tentacles everywhere, overnight.

TightDhoti said...

People in Egypt are aware of the political economic reality of the country. So is the military, which wanted to maintain its hegemony well beyond Mubarak and his cronies.

One of the reasons they tolerate the Army is as a counterweight against the police and the former secret police. Further, to balance the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, the only other organised institution along with the military.

I think everyone is caught up in the optimism of the dawning of a new Egypt. Equally if peoples expectations are not met, things will turn sour really fast.

BZ said...

Since you are comparing Egypt with the land of pure, here is my take:

Divergence: Those who know Egypt are aware that theirs is a National Army. It draws people from all parts of the country. The level of trust, short-term tactics aside, is much much higher.

Convergence can be seen in the maters of economic interests. And how!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

i find Your lack of faith on the egyptian people disturbing...dare i blame use of only local media rather then aljazeera and others ?

the youth are VERY vigilant,they just gathered 3 millions people again on tahrir after 1 week of calm on just one call..They are awakened and will not sleep anytime soon. said...

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