The laws of nature frequently offer enduring lessons that can be used to understand the ever-changing nature of global politics. One such example is that of a tidal wave which rushes everything in its path forward, and with just as much terrifying force, the wave recedes back to where it came from. The revolution of Egypt is nothing short of one of the greatest political tidal waves the world has seen, where young activists helped push their nation forward by expelling its dictator. However, Pakistan has undergone similar circumstances but has also experienced the shock of the wave's pull back.
It is in the aftermath of revolutions where the populace becomes exhausted and the military, alongside its chosen religious allies, are able to take power from the activists who helped bring about the revolt. The interim military regime, which comes to power after a period of revolution with promises of stability, often returns the nation to tyrannical rule. Thus, there are lessons that can be learned both by Pakistan and Egypt as they attempt to navigate increasingly unsettled political waters.
"Flowers are budding on branches," that's what you say,
"Every cup overflows," that's what you say,
"Wounds are healing themselves," that's what you say,
These bare-face lies, these insults to the intelligence,
I refuse to acknowledge, I refuse to accept
In the aftermath of the revolution in Egypt, the military establishment continues to state that the objective of the people is complete, now that Mubarak is no longer in power. In large part, this rhetoric was adopted to placate an already exhausted people, who were longing for stability after experiencing the brutality and chaos of revolt. The military was able to bolster its popularity with the people by depicting revolutionaries, who continue to challenge military rule, as malcontents and anarchists carrying out a foreign agenda.
In this period of uncertainty, the one thing the Egyptian military requires is a shroud of secrecy, which the young activists continually challenge. Revolutionaries continue to stage marches and sit-ins to protest the undemocratic actions of the military. In response, the military has been kidnapping, detaining, and torturing activists, stamping out any and all dissident voices. Many Cariens have seen military intelligence stalking neighbors who speak out against the interim military government.
These stories, along with the disgusting images of the military beating a young female protestor and stripping off her Islamic dress, would cause one to believe that Egypt's masses would once again take to the street in droves. However, the numbers at Tahrir Square have significantly dropped.
Part of the people's complacency is due to the military's ability to silence dissent and effectively utilize the state-controlled media to dominate the national narrative. In addition, the recent elections allowed the military to take the steam out of the demonstrations that had built up against military rule in November.
Beyond a need for normalcy, many Egyptians see the work of the revolution as complete now that an election has been held. This perspective is shared by Islamists and religious parties who won a sweeping majority in the nation's polls and have by-and-large supported the military. While it is unclear how much of a role the Army played in the elections, there seems to be a complicit agreement between the religious parties and the establishment. The Islamist groups have opted out of most of the large protests and have avoided any strong rebuke of much of the military's brutality against protestors.
Dictatorial establishments throughout history have co-opted religious parties in order to give a false appearance of democracy. Egypt is no different, and the stakes of the game are far greater for the Army, as some say it controls 40% of the nation's economy. With so much power and money at stake, the Army will use any strategy to protect its core interests and maintain the status quo. Therefore, the constitutional amendments made in the aftermath of Mubarak's ouster by a military-selected committee were designed to leave the structural dominance of the military intact.
It was the religious parties who were the first to accept the military's constitutional amendments, and in return, the military has not placed any of the obstacles in the Islamist path to power. Though the military is preserving plausible deniability by keeping the Islamists at arm's length, these religious parties are being used as a democratic distracter. This is to hide the Army's role in preserving undemocratic rule and carve out a privileged institutional role that will ensure its influence in the new political system long after the completion of the "democratic transition".
For centuries you have all stolen our peace of mind
But your power over us is coming to an end
Why do you pretend you can cure pain?
Even if some claim that you've healed them,
I refuse to acknowledge, I refuse to accept.
Many have asked when an Arab Spring will come to Pakistan, not realizing that there have been several "springs" in Pakistan's history. Four dictators have been removed by popular uprisings in Pakistan, but when it comes to occupying the vacuous political space that opens up after the tidal wave of revolution, the military has been an all-weather champion.
Every dictator that has ever ascended to power in Pakistan, or ever will, has used the same narrative as the Egyptian Army. They will sabotage democratic regimes, decry them for being ineffective and corrupt, and then reclaim public support by guaranteeing stability to a poor and brutalized public. In many ways, this is also happening in Pakistan today with the Pak-Army challenging the progress and credibility of the Zardari Administration.
Further, Pakistani dictators legalized their oppression just as the Egyptian military is doing by passing constitutional amendments which favor maintaining the status quo. Each have suspended the constitution, invoked martial law, and then created constitutional amendments that solidify their despotic and self-serving rule.
Most importantly, each regime has been supported by religious darbaars who are willing to capitulate to any demand by the military in order to maintain power. Just as Bhutto's revolution made a lasting impact on the nation, so too did the rise of Jamaat-e-Islami and its religious cohorts during the 1980's, who validated dictatorial rule of Zia ul Haq and Musharraf.
As the military attempts to take power in Egypt, its people must realize that if they allow themselves to rely on their need for stability rather than their sense of justice, their future looks as bleak as Pakistan's present. This includes a military that continues to sabotage progressive governments, perform coups, and co-opt religious parties to validate their autocratic shadow-rule. Security and stability are both important, but long-term democratic rule and stability cannot come from allowing the military to subvert the will of the Pakistani or Egyptian people. Otherwise, the hope offered by the waves of revolution will be dashed away under the boots of the Army.
The light which shines only in palaces
Burns up the joy of the people in the shadows
That which is born in the shade of another's weakness
That system, that dawn without light
I refuse to acknowledge, I refuse to accept
Aman Singh from Cairo, Egypt helped with research for this article