The term Arab Spring, coined by the Western media to define various uprisings that have jolted the Arab world, is no longer popular. Mayhem and destruction seen by Syria, Libya and Yemen have taken the initial romance out of Arab uprisings. Those who thought similar revolt could happen in Pakistan were, perhaps, mistaken. Conditions pertaining in Pakistan are vastly different and we have been on that road in 1969, 1977 and 2007. Arab revolts were essentially for regime change against autocratic leaders, who had ruled for decades, tolerated little dissent, stifled media and ruled through an iron-fisted security apparatus and intrusive intelligence agencies. Pakistani situation offers several cathartic means to our society. The lid on freedom of expression in Pakistan was never as tight as in the Arab world.
An important conclusion would be that Islamic parties should not be sidelined, but rather encouraged to be part of the political mainstream. Political Islam is far better than militant Islam. We have seen the disastrous results of not recognising the election results in Algeria and Gaza. When a political role is denied to Islamists, they turn violent. Otherwise, they are fairly moderate. Mohammad Mursi, the Ikhwan candidate who bagged the highest votes in the first round of presidential elections, is giving fairly balanced statements about the Camp David Accord and minority rights. He is not a fire brand ideologue and holds a doctorate degree in engineering from the University of South California. His deputy is a Christian by the name of Dr Rafik Habib.
The Middle East region has very high defence budgets and expensive arm purchase programmes. It also has the highest youth unemployment rate in the world. Arab youth today has better education and better health than their parents’ generation. This has created rising expectations, which have not been fulfilled by the rulers. In Pakistan, the situation is quite similar. About three million Pakistani youth enters the job market every year. Providing them with jobs means high rate of growth sustained over a long period. In Pakistan, we have to reset our priorities and, perhaps, redefine our security paradigm. Health, education, energy, security, jobs, and law and order today are as important as external defence.
One point of view is that democracy deficit in the Middle East is a result of strong public sectors, impeding the growth of vibrant private sectors. It is a known fact that societies that trade extensively are less violent. Intra-Arab trade is very limited despite the fact that no Arab country is landlocked and road networks are good. One Arab country that has developed a robust private sector is the UAE and it was least affected by the Arab uprisings. Indeed, it has benefitted from the situation as capital has flowed in from Egypt and Syria. In Pakistan, our buzz words now should be development and trade. Only a robust private sector can provide bulk of jobs now required by our youth. Unemployed youth is always ready to protest on the streets, as we recently saw in the Middle East.
Emerging governments in the Arab world are keenly looking at the Turkish model. In Turkey, the civilian government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been able to tame the ever assertive generals through a consistently good performance over the past decade. Turkish influence in the Arab world is ascendant despite heavy baggage of the past. The reason is that Turkey is an emerging economic power and has first rate educational institutions. Pakistan can develop at a fast rate provided we impart useful skills and latest technological knowhow to our youth through first rate institutions.
Both Pakistan and Arab nations are now aware that the main threat to their security is more from within than without. The ever-growing youth bulge not only needs jobs, but it also demands dignity. Mohammad Bouazizi, who literally ignited the Arab revolts by setting himself on fire, was actually protesting against the excesses of local Tunisian authorities. In Pakistan, there is a growing disconnect between the rulers and the ruled and that is dangerous. We have to make the common man a stakeholder at the grassroots level. Absence of elected local governments in all provinces is a huge negative.
Revolts and revolutions can be hijacked as well. We have seen this happen in Egypt where the uprising was initially led in the Tahrir Square by the liberal youth. Where there is revolution, a counter revolution is always waiting in the wings. Human history has seen this happen several times starting from the Spring of Nations in the 19th century France to the Prague Spring of 1967.
Egypt and Tunisia had professional, merit based armies. As opposed to that, the armies in Libya and Yemen were organised on tribal lines. In Libya, the regime had actually organised various tribal militias for its own security. In Syria, the armed forces are established on sectarian lines and that is dangerous. Professional and merit based armed forces are more loyal to the country than a falling ruler.
The Arab uprisings were a strong expression of disdain against dynastic politics. Egyptians abhorred Gamal Mubarak, Syrians Bashar Al-Assad and Libyan Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi. Our Bilawal, Maryam Nawaz Sharif and Moonas Elahis should draw their own conclusions.
And last but not the least, we should try to nurture internal peace, harmony and cohesion, rather than impose security. Imposed security can burst like a volcano, as has happened in the Arab lands.
The writer is a retired Ambassador and has served in several Arab countries. He writes a weekly column in the Oman Tribune and appears on Arabic channels as analyst.