Arab Spring? No thank you

Published: November 1, 2011

The upper class coming onto the streets calling for revolution because they saw some guys doing it on foreign media is where the real problem begins. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD JAVED

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).

Vaqas Asghar

Vaqas Asghar

The author is a senior sub-editor on the Islamabad Desk and also reports on diplomatic events. He tweets as @vasghar (

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

  • Salman Latif

    An excellent, candid post!Recommend

  • Parvez

    Although nicely written your article has missed the bus. What happened on Sunday evening in Lahore looked like a serious game changer for Pakistani politics.Recommend

  • Natasha Suleman

    I disagree with a few of your arguments but a nice read over all. Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli

    Pakistan dont have freedom of speech problem but freedom of listning u know what i am
    saying brother..
    and revolution by upper stomach full class hahahahaha.
    Arch enemy just for billions of loot and making peoples chy…Recommend

  • Lalit

    In the absence of a clear cut Ideology and policy ,a violent revolution only leads to more anarchy and nations and societies resemble headless chickens.Arabian nations are just a few need to have mentors like Rousseau, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Mao and Washington to steer a nation ahead in such critical times,otherwise outcome may be more chaos and bloodshed than earlier.does Pakistan posses a savior ?Recommend

  • Abdul Rehman Gilani

    Its time you answered for the hypocrisy in your previous blog about distorting Pakistan’s history.Recommend

  • u_too

    no need for revolution now in pakistan. Wait two years instead. Imagine how many 16 year old will have attained voting age and things will be brighter for Imran if he continues his image. Recommend

  • Darkknight

    An article full of contradictions with your own ideology::(Secularism)
    Isnt it hypocrisy that secular guys like u always talk about democracy yet when people in a place want to implement islam by their own will (the case of libya,tunisia,egypt) you start supporting guys like mubarik,gaddafi and bin Ali.

    Did u talk to any egyptian,any tunisian, any libyan about how they feel now? did you realy ever try to contact any one of them?

    I have muslim and Coptic christian friends from Egypt and they are all happy after mubarak’s departure. I never heard any of them complaining about “Islamic rules and regulations”

    Liberal extremists like u in Pakistan are exactly like religious extremists..they are all confused and they keep on pressing the self destruct button every now n thn..Recommend

  • Ali

    Yes, the ideal way would be to bring change via “vote”. But, is that not the one thing that the Pakistani ruling class has controlled well over the years with no possibility of a break down in the process for selecting “who” they have already selected!

    As I read it, our dear writer thinks so low of the Pakistani will that we are described as slaves to our hair styles and perhaps the slight lowering of outside temperature which trump everything for us including being ruled by a democratic theocracy. And looking at the results emerging from the “arab spring”, I would imagine 1 out of 2 or 50% chance of actually having major changes to the constitution and NOT being ruled by hardline conservatives is definitely worth it, when on the flip side you have criminals like out PM and President.

    It’s always prudent to proceed at a pragmatic pace, but in the absence of any and all consciounse, law and order and denial of every basic right conceivable in a humane society I would rather take my chances with the revolution than being stuck with the likes of Mubarak and Ghaddafi for over 40 years, and Zardari and the lot are worse..Recommend

  • maximustupidus

    God! how my country loves to criticize on the slightest bit of truth, its like sealed destiny for all Pakistanis to gag at everthing which is true and deny what should be done. If we really wanted a revolution we’d stood up to oppression long ago and kicked out what is vile in this country. The revolutions in middle east didnt occur overnight it took years of despotism,savage tyranny and injustice to make people stand up for themselves, we just want someone else to do it for us.Recommend

  • Shahid3

    It would be a tragedy if the struggle of millions for dignity at Tahrir Square were to result in coming to power of the ‘Muslim Brothers whose former General Guide, Mahdi Akef declared not long ago that he would prefer a Malaysian Muslim as president to a Christian Egyptian’. About as ridiculous a statement as that of some Muslim leader in pre-partition India who wanted Arabic to be the official language of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Awais Khan

    Arab spring is a movement for democracy, while in Pakistan there already is a democracy. It is only a question of strengthening it.Recommend

  • malik

    If there is spring, can winter be far behind? Now that the Arab spring, the much glorified season has gone, it is time to assess the reality in the Arab winter.

    Arab spring has become a glamorous myth for people’s love for democracy. The uprisings have been eulogized no end without considering the fact that they uprisings are only facilitating the resurgence of fundamentalist groups. There have been uprisings, yes. In some places, this revolution has just been a Sunni-Shia battle and in some places, the protest is nothing but a manifestation of people’s clamor for more islamization of society.

    For example, in Egypt, people are not fighting for democracy or for equal rights for women and minorities. People are on the streets fighting for the right to have beards and veils and fighting for the right to keep girls away from their schools. People in Egypt are demanding their government to be more anti-Israel and more anti-US in their policies. In fact, people of Egypt are asking their government to follow the Iran model, more islamization and less westernization in their society.

    In Bahrain, it is simply a Shia-Sunni fight. In Tunisia, it is the anger against the dictatorship government. What all these people – in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria – will ultimately achieve is the replacement of one dictator with another benign-faced dictator. This is what the great Arab Spring is all about.

    To put it simply, Arab Spring = Jumping from Frying Pan into Fire.Recommend

  • Abdul Rehman Gilani


    Absolutely. The secular fascists like him have damaged this country more.Recommend

  • Vaqas Asghar

    I wrote this on Saturday so I couldn’t incorporate anything about Sunday’s rally, even if i wanted to. I do agree it could be a game changer, but it’s not what i refer to here. IK want to win the elections, not overthrow the government, so as far as that’s concerned, his rising support should not be regarded as an Arab Spring, rather it is the creation of political awareness, which i am all for. Win or lose, if he can help increase voter turnout in 2013, it should be a positive sign for Pakistan.

    I resent the accusation that I support any of the trio you mentioned, or any dictator for that matter. What i refer to is mob-enforced interpretations of what the law should be, especially when the mobs start beating women and minorities. I did speak to Arab journalists and i referred to reporting from the Arab, not western media, for facts and figures.
    Also secularism and democracy have nothing to do with each other so you’re claim that i am being hypocritical is way off. Zia was religious, Saddam was secular. both were dictators who ordered the brutal oppression of their own people, and both were American allies till they outlived their usefulness. Politically, i am more of a welfare capitalist, and and i cannot stand to see any segment of the population being deprived of basic rights, exactly the things that i have written about women fearing they will be deprived of.

    @Abdul Rehman Gilani:
    Anoop answered your questions well enough, And for your fascism claim, how many times have i written in favour of violence, militarism, ultra nationalism or anything like that for you to justify that accusation? Please study up on political ideologies (specifically fascism, which you have used in the ridiculous Fox News/False News context) before accusing someone of adhering to a system that is morally impossible for them.Recommend

  • Abdul Rehman Gilani

    @Vaqas Asghar:

    Already answered Anoop.

    But its amusing to see you tacitly justifying his stance. You have not answered me, in one breath, in that article, you claim that india in 1971 was “intervening to stop the mass-murder of an oppressed population”, but are criticizing Pakistan over Kashmir!?

    Arent people massacred in Kashmir liberal? Are the deaths of tens-of-thousands for the struggle of self-determination for nothing? Why havent you written an article speaking against the barbarism there?! And why have you justified india’s support to the Mukti Bahini!

    As i said, you need to get out of hypocrisy, and speak the truth instead of lies. Recommend

  • Vaqas Asghar

    @Abdul Rehman Gilani:
    Exactly what in my piece has anything to do with the movement in Kashmir? There is a thing in writing called staying on topic. My topic was the fact that Pakistan started all four wars. Along with the word fascism, please study the meaning of hypocrisy as well. I have not given an opinion on Kashmir, nor do I want to. Kashmir belongs to the Kashmiris. They are the only ones whose opinions should matter on the subject, not least because Pakistan is now clearly violating its own peoples human rights in Kurram and elsewhere, leaving the country no moral authority to speak of the misdeeds of others.
    The people i spoke to in that piece both fought in 65 and 71. The one who is named is one of the PAF’s greatest pilots. They fought for this country because, in their own words, they were lied to. This is not me talking. This is two war heroes talking. Plus the original statement was Asghar Khan, another great PAF officer with a sterling reputation. Are you saying you are more qualified to talk about military history than people who actually lived it?
    Third, your point about the Mukti Bahni is misplaced. The resistance would never have started had the rightful PM of united Pakistan been given his spot, or if the majority of united Pakistan been given their rights. The MB did kill and maim, and two wrongs don’t make a right, but is a son protecting his mother from a violent father guilty, or is it the violent father’s fault that the situation arose? Recommend

  • Abdul Rehman Gilani

    @Vaqas Asghar:

    If you have been blessed with intelligence, than you would be able to comprehend my message.

    I am saying you talk about human rights, though become mum on the human rights violations in Indian-held Kashmir due to your own perverse agenda. And your not giving an opinion on it further proves my point that your the one being the hypocrite, justifying india’s action in 1971 though criticizing Pakistan for standing with the Kashmiris.

    And by the way, human rights violations are done by the biggest champion of human rights, the USA, in the form of wars, and Guantanamo Bay etc. So by your logic, shouldnt the US never talk about human rights? That is completely brainless on your part for saying Pakistan should not talk about others.

    Whatever the war heroes said, it does not change the fact that india is doing the worst form of human rights violations in Occupied Kashmir, this is not me speaking, this is Amnesty International. Instead of being sycophantic of india, I suggest you start speaking the truth.

    I do not justify what Bhutto did in 1971, but that did not justify india taking any part in the uprising. So I ask, by that logic, wasnt Pakistan’s support for Khalistan correct? And by the way, I also dont believe in that myth of 3 million deaths. The Hamood Ur Rehman commission’s report placing the toll at 26,000 is feasible.Recommend

  • Baba Ji

    Not tearing up public property. Not burning effigies of the so-called oppressors. Not beatifying murderers or thrashing those with opposing viewpoints. ……………….- Author

    Dang it …. you want to take all the fun out of our lives !!!!!!!!Recommend