Arab Spring? No thank you
When Raja Khan, a twenty-something father of three from Sindh, lit himself on fire in Islamabad to escape from the misery he found at every avenue of life, people started talking.
Talking about deprivation. Talking about unemployment. And talking about an Arab spring.
After a summer in which a number of authoritarian Arab regimes have fallen to the power of the people and the global “Occupy” movements are putting pressure on world leaders to provide legislation for the people, assisted in no small part by the power of social media, some circles have begun debating whether it is time for Pakistan’s Arab Spring.
There are a number of problems that have not been as heavily debated though. First, and possibly easiest, Pakistan is not part of the Arab world. Never was, never will be. Pakistan is part of South Asia, specifically the Arch-Enemy-To-The-East-That-Is-Hell-Bent-On-Destroying-Us-As-Part-Of-A-Zionist-Fascist-American-Greek-Orthodox-Conspiracy subcontinent. That though, is probably the least worrying issue.
Young upper class kids coming onto the streets calling for revolution because they saw some guys doing it on foreign media, all without realising what happened before or after those revolts, is where the real problem begins.
Upper class revolutionaries want to bring change, but get upset by the fact that their hairstyles melt away in the summer heat. They also don’t like it when those mean cops with handlebar moustaches beat them. Maybe they’ll feel more comfortable in the winter? Can sweaters be the secret to bringing a revolution in Pakistan?
But I digress.
Let’s forget about how it will be organised. Social media and cell phone penetration in Pakistan, along with the general sense of apathy towards many of the ruling parties, means that the prerequisites are indeed there, minus the fact that Pakistan is not an oppressive authoritarian regime run on the basis of nepotism, militarism, and pleasing foreign masters.
Far from it.
Pakistan is an oppressive democratic regime run on the basis of nepotism, militarism, and pleasing foreign masters. The best way to correct such a democracy is by using democratic means: voting. The ballot box is the best way to fix what we, the people perceive as wrong. Not tearing up public property. Not burning effigies of the so-called oppressors. Not beatifying murderers or thrashing those with opposing viewpoints. Simply vote, and do so in large numbers (meaning help bring out more voters, not voting multiple times).
But let’s suppose there is an uprising. The real problem that remains unaddressed by the Spring hopefuls is of what will happen once the revolt succeeds. Each of the countries that has seen a legitimately home-grown uprising (Libya’s was foreign-armed, funded, and received military support from the West) has seen the movement hijacked by a small, but ultimately powerful and violent minority. Keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of revolting people in the early days of the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings were religious moderates battling for the right to have genuinely representative governments and personal freedoms.
Yet, who is the face of the new Egypt and Libya? Conservatives. Hard-liners who want to introduce strict Sharia law and rework their countries into democratic theocracies (if such a thing exists). Women are facing rights abuses that the still-powerful militaries in the former two countries are covering up.
In Egypt, women fear that the removal of reserved seats for women will mean lower representation in parliament and the withdrawal of many existing rights.
Notably, The Constitutional Amendments Committee appointed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces includes exactly zero women. The interim government has only one female minister, while Mubarak had four.
A number of laws meant to empower women have already been changed or have come under scrutiny, including marriage, divorce and child-custody laws.
An Egyptian columnist even wrote about how amid the protests, some men claimed that most women’s rights were only designed to please the wife of ex-president Mubarak. Then they burnt down the National Council for Women’s Rights for good measure.
In March, women were assaulted during a Women’s Day march, while Amnesty International revealed that around the same time, the Egyptian Army held at least 17 female protesters and subjected them to virginity tests, among other things. The women claimed to have been handcuffed, beaten, strip-searched and photographed by male soldiers, after which a male ‘doctor’ performed the virginity check. This was apparently because soldiers thought the women were prostitutes, as if any woman participating in the sit-ins to demand that change come at a faster rate also has a going rate. It took months before the army finally admitted to the tests and put a stop to them.
To top it off, a female activist who plans to run for president was apparently asked by clergymen and media about how she would negotiate the effects of menstruation as president. The woman is 50. Biology is apparently not a strong point for these guys.
Even Libya’s new leadership is making arrangements to introduce Sharia law, which is less surprising since there were allegations of al-Qaeda having links with the rebels, largely proven when a rebel leader who had crushed al-Qaeda in the country during his days in Qadaffi’s army was killed by men under his command (who were later found to have ties to militants). However, these are apparently ‘good’ al-Qaeda, since the Lady Liberty is putting up with them. But then OBL was once in a heated relationship with her too, until that violent breakup.
The only breath of fresh air seems to be Tunisia, which has passed a law requiring that there be an equal number of male and female candidates on the lists for parliamentary elections. Tunisia’s former government also had the highest number of women in parliament in the region.
So is Pakistan ready for an Arab spring? Maybe. But what will happen if it does come? Will it mean equal rights for all, or equal rights for some and no rights for others? Will it lead to common men, unfortunately with a limited understanding of anything, judging from the literacy rate, making important decisions, or cult personalities, filling the vacuum?
Also, keeping in mind that most cult personalities seem to have the veiled support of the same groups, will it lead to Jinnah saab posthumously growing a beard in all of his pictures?
Pakistan needs change, but not an Egyptian or Libyan style one. Pakistan needs a democratic self-correction, and there are still two years to mobilise and ensure that happens. Till then, it is best if sardi mein bhi inquilaab nahin aaye (a revolution doesn’t come in the winter either).
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.