Obviously events are unfolding fast, and anything could happen. Some quick thoughts that can be elaborated later.
1. My working theory has been that a military crackdown is not likely:
- if the army and protesters come from the same, relatively homogenous population, and
- the regime is not premised on some revolutionary ideology.
Thus, the Alawite regime in Syria doesn’t hesitate to kill Sunni protesters, or the Iranian or Chinese regime can unleash military crackdown, but in Egypt or Tunisia, the army folds instead of propping up individuals.
A distinct theory is that the army will get involved in serious violence only if its corporate interests are threatened. Of course, the theories are not mutually exclusive. A minority dominated regime or a revolutionary state can give its army a set of corporate interests that can be threatened by majoritarian or popular democracy.
But what if, in a non-revolutionary, homogenous state, democratic uprisings threaten army’s corporate interests?
In Egypt, the majors and captains will hesitate to kill their cousins in the streets, and the generals will hesitate ordering their kids’ slaughter, for an individual Mubarak or Tantawi. And the same story holds in Bangladesh.
But what if the protesters demand an end to the army’s corporate interests?
2. Protests are an important part of politics. But they are not the only way to do politics. And in some circumstances, they are actually counterproductive for democratic politics.
Eroding the army’s grip on the economy may be desirable in its own right. But that’s probably not what animates all political players in Egypt. Organised parties, particularly of the Islam-pasand kind, have their own agenda. And they are not in the streets.
Instead, they are campaigning for the coming elections. If they win a plurality in the elections and reach a power sharing agreement with the army, liberal democracy will take a hit in Egypt.
But are the protests the best way to avoid that?
Protests may well remove Tantawi — see the first point. But then there will be another general, ready to do deals with organised parties. Then what?
Nearly a year after the first stirring of protests in that part of the world, it’s time the Egyptian (and other) liberal democrats graduate from protests to organisations.
… 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.
SMS, e-mail, facebook — all forms of modern communication told me as I woke up yesterday that the Mubarak regime had fallen. This had continued throughout the day. And rightly so. As my friend Naeem put it in a facebook conversation:
A 30 year regime’s figurehead has been ousted only through people power. Although there are many roadblocks ahead, including the presence of the army as broker, but still, still… can’t people genuinely feel happy, just for one day, get carried away, just a little bit. How often are there revolutions to celebrate in this tired, broken world?
Yesterday was the day of celebration. Now for some analysis, which begins with noting that the upheavals sweeping through the Arab world is something that few pundits and experts saw coming — therefore, do take anything anyone (including yours truly) says with a grain of salt. To paraphrase Dylan, writers and critiques who prophesise with our pens should keep our eyes open for the chance won’t come again.
I have certainly been keeping my eyes open — glued on the Al Jazeera mostly, but also on the pages of the International Herald Tribune and the Financial Times. And one common refrain I see from the punditry is this: will it be 1989 or 1979 in the banks of the Nile?
Of course, these parallels are simplistic. No two countries are alike — circumstances differ, as do endowments. And people who use these parallels know that. Yet they use these simplistic stories to make sense of a complex world — it’s not easy to write a 800-word op ed, I should know. So I don’t object to the simplistic parallels. I do, however, feel that 1989 or 1979 are wrong parallels to. Rather, over the fold, I argue that if we must indulge in simplistic historical parallels, the period to look to is 1969, the place — erstwhile West Pakistan.
Solidarity with my Arab sisters and brothers.
Down with the Firaun.
Update 8 Feb 12pm BDT: In solidarity with the Arab uprising, this blog will be called Tahrir until 15 February.