Smells like revolution, but not in Pakistan

Published: February 2, 2011
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For some, the state of affairs in Egypt is shocking. For many others it is spectacular.

I recently visited Egypt with friends. Our trip started in Luxor (once known as the city of Thebes) where we gazed in awe at some of the wonders of the ancient world. We munched on falafels, sipped on mint tea, smoked shisha, and sailed along the Nile. We drove along the Sinai coast, snorkelled in the Red Sea, and sunbathed in Sharm el Sheikh. In the metropolis of Cairo we shopped at the Khan el Khalili market, visited the Egyptian Museum, and made difficult dinner choices from an array of international cuisines. We had a fantastic time – good enough to write about in a travel blog.

But that was some weeks ago.

Today, airlines from all over the world are sending chartered flights to Cairo to bring their citizens back home. Over the last week, scores of tourists have seen their holiday take an unexpected turn. Massive street protests demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak have paralysed day to day activity in the Egyptian capital. On Sunday, January 30, over 10,000 protesters gathered in Tahrir Square, in downtown Cairo.

Shocked or in awe?

Efforts by the Egyptian military to dissipate protests have largely been unsuccessful despite the use of bullets, tear gas, and tanks. The people of Egypt are clearly enraged; they hold their president responsible for unemployment, food inflation, and poverty. At this point it looks likely that the thousands of protestors on the streets may very well achieve their goal – the end of Mubarak’s 29 year reign.

For some, this state of affairs is shocking; for many others it is spectacular. Egyptians seem to have been roused from complacence. They seem to have realised ‘If not us then who? If not now then when?’

This story is all the more compelling, given recent events in Tunisia, earlier in January, where President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali was forced to flee for his life after riots erupted in the city of Sidi Bouzid. Like Egypt, Tunisia was ruled by a dictator who had been in power for nearly 25 years. Years of imbalances had resulted in growing inequality as well as rampant joblessness, particularly among the educated youth.

Revolution is in the air

Worth noting is that the same socio economic conditions are not uncommon in other Arab countries and it now seems possible that the resultant sense of injustice could bring people out onto the streets in places such as Algeria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen. Arab rulers appear to be aware of this and efforts have been made in some Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to make food and fuel more affordable. Though measures such as these might play a role in calming emotions, they have not been enough to quell the notion that revolution is in the air.

Should the sentiment of rebellion endure as an appropriate response to economic injustice, Pakistanis may feel that they too have a role to play. After all, if the citizens of Cairo can be incensed despite having uninterrupted electricity, solid infrastructure, inexpensive fuel, and almost no crime, Karachiites protesting on the street should come as a surprise to no one.

Pakistan will not stir

Past experience suggests that it is likely that the events in Arab countries will leave Pakistan unchanged. Protests only become spontaneous after a certain critical mass is reached. Before that, they are contrived.

Protesters tend to be successful in making an impression when they are united by one or two straightforward demands. In the case of Egypt this is the departure of Hosni Mubarak. Also, protests need to be planned by organisers. In Egypt this was possible thanks to opposition parties who were proficient with Facebook, Twitter, and cell phone text messaging.

Protesters demanding regime change also need to present either a viable alternative or demand fresh elections. In Egypt, street activity has gained momentum as opposition groups have expressed their support for Mohamed el Baradei, a Nobel peace laureate and former head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency. In the absence of any efforts to create similar options in Pakistan, disgruntled Pakistanis are likely to remain just that.

Juvaria.Jafri

J S Madani

An academician and former investment banker who lives in Karachi.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.