In solidarity with Arab comrades…
… I wish that their countries become like Bangladesh.
Yes dear reader, you read that correctly. While the fashionable thing these days is to lament for the lack of an Arab-style uprising in Dhaka, I think that the Arab world will do well if their political institutions resemble those of Bangladesh — with all our manifold shortcomings — in a few years hence.
Let me explain.
Let’s start with Egypt — the largest and most important Arab country. Back in February, I argued that the Egyptian uprising bore a resemblance to the anti-Ayub uprising that swept through West Pakistan in 1969. I noted then:
As in today’s Egypt, the then West Pakistan had no history of electoral democracy, and little institution to support an immediate transition to an elected government. As in today’s Egypt, the army was widely accepted as an institution that could restore peace and stability, and oversee a democratic transition.
… the army did allow a peaceful, democratic election after a period of gradual normalisation. That may well be what we are likely to see in Egypt.
If the 1969 parallel holds, then the key question ought not be about the nature of the regime replacing Mubarak — this is likely to be an interregnum. The key question is likely to be about the coming elections.
This assessment seems to have held reasonably well thus far. The army has not shown much inclination towards ruling the country directly. The current regime is very much an interregnum, preparing for an election. The Islamists, nationalists, populists, and liberals all jockey for votes. So far, this is exactly where West Pakistan was in 1969-70. What will happen after the election?
What if the elections produce two major camps of roughly equal strengths, both containing a mix of nationalism, political Islam, liberalism and populism to different degrees? What if the two camps agree to right a constitution that cautiously and moderately clip the army’s wings?
Can Egypt really do better than the above outcome? Is that scenario so different from what happened in Bangladesh after a youth uprising unseated a corrupt military man in Dhaka?
Will this two-party slowly civilianising system turn into partisan bickering? Almost certainly. Will the economy take off right away? Almost certainly not. And even if it did, manifold contradictions between different social strata will not resolve any time soon. But with luck, Egypt will limp along. Just like Bangladesh has been.
And that’s Egypt. With full solidarity to comrades in Libya and Syria and Yemen, I am afraid their future is even more bleak. They are starting out as Bangladesh would have been in the 1970s without the presence of Mujib or Zia.
Dear reader, beware of anyone who promises a utopia, whether on the banks of the Niles or the Buriganga. They are charlatans or fools, naives or knaves. They are not to be trusted. A marginal revolution is the only one that doesn’t spin on itself, spirals and turns. A salute to such a revolution then.