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Islam and Politics ( 16 Jan 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The Tunisian revolution and lessons for Pakistan

By Dr Syed  Mansoor  Hussain


Pakistan is ethnically and socially much more diverse, has greater poverty and much lower literacy rates and is obviously a much bigger place than Tunisia and exists in a rather dangerous neighbourhood

The recent Tunisian ‘revolution’ of sorts brought forth a few interesting memories and some provocative ideas worth thinking about. Clearly the most important impetus to the agitation against the now absconding Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was the alleged corruption that his wife and her family were involved in. There is an old maxim in political science that ‘Caesar’s wife must be above reproach’.

Over the years there have been quite a few ‘soft’ revolutions against aging autocrats. Many of these agitations used charges of nepotism and spousal abuse of power as a call to arms. If today anybody is asked about the ouster of former president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos, the one thing most people will recall is the large number of shoes his wife Imelda owned. Our own President Ayub Khan saw his ‘decade of progress’ crumble and here too if asked about what brought him down, most people will refer to charges of nepotism and the then infamous ‘Ghandhara Industries’ owned and run by his sons.

This brings up an interesting problem. Most, if not all, autocrats indulge in accumulation of wealth at public expense and most are also pretty much guilty of well, autocratic behaviour. Even then few ever become the target of a movement against them based upon personal corruption. Indeed, if at all any agitation to remove them occurs it is usually a result of excessive political repression and widespread violation of human rights.

This to me at least then suggests that most people are relatively dismissive of ‘fiscal misbehaviour’ of the ruler but find similar behaviour of the ruler’s relatives much more offensive. Perhaps the underlying sentiment is that the ‘Caesar’ is our man and we will let him indulge in some fiscal hanky-panky as long as he fulfils the ‘social contract’ between us to some degree. But such permissiveness towards fiscal impropriety is definitely not extended to the members of Caesar’s family. In this there is definitely an object lesson for the members of the ruling establishment in Pakistan.

The other question that comes up is if such a ‘revolution’ is possible in Tunisia, then why not in Pakistan. After all, what is happening in Pakistan today would make Tunisia under Ben Ali look like a land of milk and honey. As a matter of fact, many within Pakistan have been calling for some such revolution quite vocally and persistently for some time. The Pakistani problem is very different from what was going on in Tunisia.

Tunisia became independent 10 years after Pakistan and since then has had only two ‘rulers’ while Pakistan has during its 60 plus years been much more fortunate at least in terms of the number of people that have ruled it. Four army dictators, one political autocrat and a smattering of democratic elected types including the present dispensation. As such, the people of Pakistan have tried or rather been subjected to many different types and styles of government during its sixty plus years. More importantly, Pakistan is ethnically and socially much more diverse, has greater poverty and much lower literacy rates and is obviously a much bigger place than Tunisia and exists in a rather dangerous neighbourhood.

For Pakistan there are only three alternatives to the present rather ineffectual democratic set-up that is running the country. The most obvious one being another military dictatorship and about that all one can say is, ‘been there, done that’. Then there is the possibility of a political autocracy, been there too. The third possibility that has not yet been tried fully is that of a theocracy. But that has been tried piecemeal, under the MMA in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and more recently in Swat. And we did see a full blown theocracy of a rather excessive nature under the Taliban in Afghanistan and of course we have had a slightly less excessive one next door in Iran for almost 30 years. So for the people in Pakistan the choices are rather limited. Also, corruption is so widespread that if we throw out all the ‘rascals’ we will have nobody left to run even the lowest level bureaucracy in the country.

Yes, yes, I know my pinko-commie friends are surely getting very upset that I have not mentioned the possibility of a ‘people’s revolution’ and a socialist takeover of the country. Sorry guys, the old Left is dead and gone and the new Left has been co-opted by the western capitalistic lifestyle. As far as I am concerned the possibility of a secular and socialist Pakistan is nothing more than a pipedream and most likely it will stay just that.

Are we in Pakistan doomed to go on the way we are right now? Other than a theocratic system we have tried everything else and I do not believe that a theocracy is imminent either. The reason for this assessment is based on the premise that the Muslims in Pakistan are divided into so many different denominations that a unified ‘Islamist’ government is unlikely. Also, it is easier to impose a political system that is unpopular among a part of the population but it is virtually impossible to do that with a religious system without much greater resistance.

Essentially then in Pakistan as things stand, the choices are between the present PPP-dominated government, a future PML-N-dominated government or a rerun of an army-led government. As far as the existing religious political parties are concerned they have repeatedly demonstrated a total inability to find traction at a national level. The Sunni Tehreek is a nascent movement and it will be some time before it is able to develop a national political presence if it ever can do that.

However, the recent political upheaval in Tunisia does have lessons for the present Pakistani rulers but in my opinion they are limited to the problems of ‘Caesar’s wife’.

The writer has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at

Source: Daily Times, Pakistan