Pakistan certainly seems ripe for revolt. It is perpetually on a knife edge — extremists plot and explode bombs, senior politicians are assassinated, society seethes with discontent. A slim upper crust floats in a bubble of wealth and privilege — the local version of Hello! offers coverage of upper-class toddler parties — while the poor grind along under soaring food inflation and 12-hour power cuts. Regional tensions threaten to pull the country asunder. In Quetta, residents were shivering in their homes because the rebels had blown up the gas pipelines four times over the previous week.
“We're in a bad way,” one mournful lawyer told me before I left, glancing over his shoulder to see if intelligence officials were evesdropping.
Some analysts compare the mood to Iran in 1979, when a restive middle-class upended the American-backed Shah and opened the door to theocratic Islamic rule. Yet on the ground in Pakistan, the whiff of revolution is faint. For a start, the country is too fractured. Take Karachi, a sprawling megalopolis of 16 million people, about the size of Cairo. Control of the city is divided between a patchwork of political, sectarian and criminal gangs. All are heavily armed. Protests against Pervez Musharraf in the city four years ago pitted rival groups against each other, triggering a bloodbath. -- Declan Walsh
In 2009, President Obama called for a new beginning between the US and Muslims and spoke of the importance of freedom, justice and giving citizens the right to choose their own destiny. On 13 June 2009, hundreds of thousands of Iranians stood up against corruption in massive anti-government demonstrations after fraudulent elections that saw President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and his cronies retain their iron grip on power. On 25 January 2011, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets demanding an end to 30 years of corruption, torture and fear at the hands of their oppressor, President Hosni Mubarak. In 2009, Western leaders, including American President Barack Obama, were quick to express their support for the anti-government protesters, voicing absolute condemnation of Ahmedinejad and the Iranian government -- Joseph Mayton
Feted alternately as a new father for a new Afghanistan, a liberator of Afghan women and a champion of democracy, Karzai, let us remember, was an all-round hero until very recently. Now that Karzai is doing what any self-respecting politician would do in his situation — making overtures to old adversaries, putting on a show for his constituency, and flexing his muscles to demonstrate how truly dangerous he can be — he is being painted as a heroin-user and a corrupt and unworthy ally…
Standing by the elected Karzai — no matter how cozy he becomes with Pakistan and the Kandahari Taliban — is the only way for India to affirm its status as a secure and truly powerful regional hegemon. Moreover, it is the only course of action that is consistent with the Indian democratic narrative. Standing in Karzai's way because Indian hawks are worried about Pakistani influence in Afghanistan would immeasurably short-sighted, because Pakistan's influence in Afghanistan is inevitable and organic. Besides, Karzai's ventality, corruption and incompetence should not be so strange for South Asians. Our South Asian politics is like this only. Karzai was, is, and will remain, one of our own. -- Mosharraf Zaidi
In 40 years of writing about the Middle East, I have never seen anything like what is happening in Tahrir Square. In a region where the truth and truth-tellers have so long been smothered under the crushing weight of oil, autocracy and religious obscurantism, suddenly the Arab world has a truly free space — a space that Egyptians themselves, not a foreign army, have liberated — and the truth is now gushing out of here like a torrent from a broken hydrant. … After we walked across the Nile bridge, Professor Mamoun Fandy remarked to me that there is an old Egyptian poem that says: “The Nile can bend and turn, but what is impossible is that it would ever dry up.’ The same is true of the river of freedom that is loose here now. Maybe you can bend it for a while, or turn it, but it is not going to dry up.” -- Thomas L. Friedman
The public face of the ‘Islamic’ revival, that was directed against the Mubarak regime (implicitly, in some cases, overtly in the case of underground radical Islamists, who have been subjected to harsh repression), which I saw all around me was by no means a positive one, even though its target—toppling Mubarak and his cronies—may have been a laudable objective. The dominant version of Islam that informed this revival seemed to me to be harsh, fun-less and punitive, and, at the same time, thoroughly incapable of providing a progressive alternative to Mubarak’s regime, although it definitely had the potency to challenge it. It sat in the growls, scowls and permanent frowns of the vast numbers of men propelling it. It lay in voluminous tomes and fatwas that prescribed medieval laws for dealing with contemporary problems. It was definitely anti-intellectual, as reflected in the enormous number of books I spotted in Cairene bookstores that (so I learned from an Indian student at al-Azhar who translated their titles and tables of contents for me) spoke of Islam in terms of empty slogans, offering no sensible guidance for running the affairs of a modern society and economy deeply networked into a globalised world. It was reflected in graffiti scribbled on street walls exclaiming in triumph, ‘East or West, Islam is the best’ and ‘Islam is THE solution’. It was also incarnated in waves of bombings of churches and the growing demonization of local Christians as alleged conspirators against Islam.
Mubarak certainly deserved to go, of that there was no doubt, but as to whether those who will now replace him, including, possibly, the Islamists, will prove to be any better I am not so sure. -- Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com
The traditional Western notion that Muslims can't "handle" and therefore do not "deserve" democracy has been a widespread one, shared by many among our Hindu Right as well.
The history of military takeovers and coups in Pakistan, and subsequently also Bangladesh, was always a telling comparison.
It is a pity these people never heard or understood Faiz Ahmed Faiz's "Hum Dekhenge", the finest, sharpest and shrewdest call to a society's democratic impulse from any modern poet. They should even now hear it in the voice of the late Iqbal Bano (at http://www.radioreloaded.com/tracks/?11 002) when she rendered it in a Lahore stadium at the peak of Zia's dictatorship, arguably Pakistan's toughest, and the most "Islamic" so far. Listen then to the audience come alive, cheer, sing along and scream in joy and democratic defiance with the lines "jab raj karegi khalq-e-khuda, jo main bhi hun or tum bhi ho" (when power shall return to God's people, like you and I) or, "jab takht giraye jayenge, jab taj uchhale jayenge" (when thrones are tilted, when crowns are tossed) -knowing exactly who all this was referring to. Almost every member of the audience was a Muslim -and had the same democratic impulse that any other human being anywhere in the world, and believing in any religion, would have. -- Shekhar Gupta
Thimpu: The day the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan were to meet on the sidelines of the SAARC Council of Ministers’ meeting ‘with an open mind’, as Nirupama Rao put it, Hafiz Sayeed, one of the accused in the Mumbai terror attacks who heads the Lashkar-e-Taiyba warned that if India did not leave Kashmir, it should be ready for war with Pakistan. Though India chose to ignore his ‘threats’ as it has done his earlier ones, it showed that Pakistan was not serious in resolving bilateral issues through dialogue by allowing its official and unofficial spokesmen to vitiate the atmosphere before any dialogue between the two countries. -- New Age Islam News Bureau
Well, the wait is over. TEHELKA has scooped the sensational 600-page inquiry report into Modi’s alleged role in the 2002 massacre. The content is shocking and will come as a serious blow to the carefully cultivated image of Modi as an able administrator and a man of good governance. For eight years, riot victims and human rights groups have cried hoarse about the deliberate miscarriage of justice in Gujarat. About how the police and State machinery had either ignored or abetted rioters and created the space for massacres to happen; about how some ruling party politicians had goaded the public mood to new danger levels; about the State’s blatant and continuing prejudice against the victims; about public prosecutors who were subverting justice in the courts by helping the accused instead of nailing their guilt.
But as the years passed, despite the glaring evidence, the accusations lost their sting and were deemed to be, as Advani called it, merely a vicious maligning campaign. Modi won two elections and the effects of the counter-propaganda began to kick in. Both corporate heads and sections of the national media began to hail Modi as a great statesman and potential prime minister. His sins of omission and commission were set aside. The Congress, blunted by its own abysmal handling of the 1984 Sikh riots, stayed meekly quiet. But now, for the first time, there is damning official confirmation of many things victims and human rights groups have been accusing Modi of. -- ASHISH KHETAN
“The Arab world is on fire”, Al Jazeera reported on January 27, while throughout the region Western allies “are quickly losing their influence”. The shock wave was set in motion by the dramatic uprising in Tunisia that drove out a Western-backed dictator, with reverberations especially in Egypt, where demonstrators overwhelmed a dictator’s brutal police.
The current hope appears to be Mubarak loyalist Gen. Omar Suleiman, just named Egypt’s vice-president. Suleiman, the longtime head of the intelligence services, is despised by the rebelling public almost as much as the dictator himself. A common refrain among pundits is that fear of radical Islam requires (reluctant) opposition to democracy on pragmatic grounds. While not without some merit, the formulation is misleading. The general threat has always been independence. In the Arab world, the US and its allies have regularly supported radical Islamists, sometimes to prevent the threat of secular nationalism.
The vibrant democracy movement in Tunisia was directed against “a police state, with little freedom of expression or association, and serious human rights problems”, ruled by a dictator whose family was hated for their venality. This was the assessment by US ambassador Robert Godec in a July 2009 cable released by WikiLeaks. -- Noam Chomsky
Islamic role is essential
These fears are overblown. The threat posed by Islamists seizing power is more often than not a crutch used by autocrats to safeguard their positions, secure foreign aid and snap up White House invitations. We have seen this in spades since 9/11, when presidents from Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf to Egypt's Mubarak played up the threat of radical Islamists at home to secure more goodies from Washington namely billions of dollars worth of aid and military hardware and retain power. Their relationship vis-à-vis the U.S. can best be summed up: Hey, we may not be perfect, but trust me, the alternative is worse.
But let's face it, for a democratic coalition to come to power in Egypt it has to make political room for religious groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. That isn't a bad thing. Mohamed ElBaradei, an opposition candidate for president, has won the Brotherhood's support. And some Muslim Brothers have participated in the recent protests, though their role and influence remain unclear. The political scientist Barrington Moore once famously posited: "No bourgeoisie, no democracy." What we are seeing is the Arab world corollary: No Islamist representation, no democracy. -- Lionel Beehner, USA TODAY
The hypocrisy of liberals is breath- taking: they supported democra- cy, and now, when the Egyptians revolt on behalf of secular freedom, they are concerned ONE CANNOT CLAIM, AS IN THE CASE OF ALGERIA A DECADE AGO, THAT ALLOWING TRULY FREE ELECTIONS EQUALS DELIVERING POWER TO MUSLIM FUNDAMENTALISTS.
What cannot but strike the eye in the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt is the conspicuous absence of Muslim fundamentalism. In the best secular democratic tradition, people simply revolted against an oppressive regime, its corruption and poverty, and demanded freedom and economic hope. The cynical wisdom of western liberals, according to which, in Arab countries, genuine democratic sense is limited to narrow liberal elites while the vast majority can only be mobilised through religious fundamentalism or nationalism, has been proven wrong. So what will happen next? Who'll emerge as the political winner? -- Slavoj Zizek
In the wake of startling revelations about the involvement of Hindutva groups in numerous acts of terror across India in recent years, last week a number of human rights organizations jointly held a one-day public meeting in New Delhi under the banner ‘Tracing Sangh Terror Links And Stories Of Innocent Muslim Boys’ to highlight an issue that has hitherto received scant media attention. Several social and political activists gave their testimonies, as did Muslim men and their relatives who have been unfairly targeted by the police for acts of terror in which they had no involvement at all.--Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com
The West Asia’s latest unrest has revived once again a tired debate about the power of social media. Recent headlines gush about the arrival of the “Facebook Revolution” or “Twitter Diplomacy”. Critics like Evgeny Morozov respond by noting that the influence of new media has been exaggerated by a press enthralled with “techno-utopianism”. Social media enables fast coordination, critics say, not the narrative or resolve necessary to sustain a movement; flashmobs do not a political organisation make.
But to state the obvious — that Facebook cannot replace good old-fashioned activism — is not to say much about what Facebook actually does in a place like Egypt. What does it do? -- Andrew K. Woods
On Sunday 30 January Rashid Al-Ghannouchi, the 69 year old leader of the Tunisian Islamic movement, returned home after a long exile in London. The international media has interpreted Al-Ghannouchi's return as the most potent symbol yet of the dramatic changes that have taken place in Tunisia in recent weeks.
Al-Ghannouchi is widely regarded to represent the most liberal and progressive strand in Arab Islamist politics. Born in 1941 in Qabis province (southern Tunisia) he received higher education in Cairo, Damascus and the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1981 Al-Ghannouchi founded the Al-Ittijah al-Islami (Islamic Tendency) which was renamed Hizb al-Nahda (aka Hizb Ennahda) or the Renaissance Party in 1989.
Al-Ghannouchi has been at the forefront to resistance against authoritarian regimes in Tunisia from the early 1980s. His return to Tunisia looks set to bring about important changes not only in his native country but North Africa more broadly and perhaps even further afield. Coupled with wider developments in the region (notably the unrest in Egypt) it may mark the point at which Islamists are gradually allowed to fully participate in the politics and governance of North African states.
Mahan Abedin conducted this interview in London on Thursday 27 January 2011.
Photo: Mahan Abedin with Rashid Al-Ghannoushi during the interview conducted in London on 27 january 2011.
A newspaper published from Delhi has gone to the extent of accusing Maulana Vastanvi of buying off six members of the Majlis-e-Shoura to win the election. According to the newspaper, out of 14 members present that day, eight voted in his favour while six went against him. This means that originally only two members voted in his favour. This is a very serious allegation which should be strongly refuted by the Majlis-e-Shoura. But it is surprising as well as painful that neither Maulana Vastanvi nor the members of the Shoura have said anything repudiating the charge. The same members are going to meet on the 23rd of February to decide his fate. Some people think that it is not appropriate to point fingers at the Majlis-e-Shoura as they are sacrosanct. But they should be reminded that even Hadhrat Umar (R.A.) was held accountable and had given explanation in public. Therefore, the Majlis-e-Shoura’s silence on the allegations only strengthens suspicions. How can those who themselves are in the dock be the judge? -- Sohail Arshad, NewAgeIslam.com