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More often than not Western analysts routinely draw their perceptions from the gossip on the cocktail circuit, mostly conforming to that reported by Embassy staffers. From time to time someone will give views contrary to that which are fashionable, these are soon drowned out by contemptuous skepticism. Only when the streets come afire are the right inferences drawn, sometime it is too late.  The Tunisian Army did not intervene to save Ben Ali when his security apparatus failing to quell the street protests and his mafia-like family were driven out of power, the analysts still failed to see the lurking danger in other Arab capitals.  The images from Cairo’s Tahrir Square said it all (and quite graphically), with civilians clambering onto tanks and armoured carriers it was all over bar the shouting.  It is intellectual bankruptcy if anyone seems to think that Mubarak’s Intelligence Chief, Omar Suleiman, the man responsible for most of Mubarak’s excesses, has the answers to Egypt’s craving for democracy.

Brig (later Lt Gen) Ali Kuli Khan Khattak, then Pakistan’s Defence Attaché in Egypt, was standing only a few feet away when the assassin’s bullet struck Anwar Sadat. Mubarak wielded absolute power as the “Pharaoh of Egypt” for 30 years in 1981. Ruling Egypt since with an iron hand, Hosni Mubarak beggared Egypt while becoming rich himself, he and his family are reportedly worth US$40 billion (and some change). Poor countries can hardly afford rich leaders but the same story is repeated in other family run Arab “democracies”, a figleaf meant to hide brutal and corrupt dictatorships. The demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt did not materialize out of thin air because of any single source of disaffection, it was a mass outpouring of pent-up rage accumulated over the years.  These spontaneous uprisings mainly comprise common citizens that have been made “beggar and/or thieves” by the greed, nepotism, corruption and sheer callousness of their leaders. During the Annual Summit 2011 of the World Economic Forum (WEF) it was pathetic seeing those who used to fall over themselves to flaunt their close affiliation to the “royal” families of Mubarak, Ben Ali, King Abdullah, etc seek now to distance themselves by publicly disparaging their conduct and behaviour, talk about rats deserting a sinking ship!

The revolt sweeping the so-called Arab “democracies” started in Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia with the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26 year old street vendor. Working since his late teens to support his uncle (whom his mother married after the death of his father when he was only three), mother and six siblings, Bouazizi earned approximately US$ 140 per month.  This daily labour facilitated sending one of his sisters to the University.  He did not have permit for his vending cart, he was forced to bribe the police who would confiscate his cart. He had accumulated approx $200 in debt for his wares. Bouazizi was publicly humiliated on Dec 18, 2010 by a 45-year old female municipal official named Hamdi who alongwith two of her colleagues slapped him, spat at him, confiscated his electronic weighing scale and threw away his cart. He was refused an interview when he went to the Governor to complain. Frustrated beyond caring, Bouazizi doused his body with gasoline (or paint thinner, it is not clear) and burned himself.   Taken to a hospital 70 miles away he died 18 days later on January 4, 2011. President Ben Ali belatedly visited him in the “Burns and Trauma Center” before his death, the Governor who had refused to see him was shunted out, Hamdi was also dismissed from service and fled from her home town. All this was too little, too late, the simmering anger among the people exploded and Ben Ali has become a wanted man, interestingly all his assets and accounts abroad have been frozen.  Another self-immolation followed in Algeria. Tunisia’s symbol of frustration was Mohamed Bouazizi, in Egypt it was Khaled Said a businessman who was beaten to death by plainclothes policemen because he had protested police corruption. 18 others have since committed suicide in Arab countries, among them Abou Jaaffar, a 49 year old restaurant owner who set himself on fire in front of the Egyptian Parliament.

As any young army officer detailed in “Aid of Civil Power” will attest, some distance must be maintained between the uniformed ranks and the mob in the streets. With protestors swarming over the armoured vehicles at will and surrounding them, there was no way the troops were going to open fire. The statement by the Defence Minister and Armed Forces Chief, Marshal Tantawi (called Mubarak’s “poodle” by younger officers according to the cables from the US Embassy leaked by Wikileaks) that the “Egyptian Army would not fire on the protestors voicing their legitimate demands” only confirmed the perception that even if the troops were ordered to open fire they would probably not listen to their officers. Very wisely, the military hierarchy avoided putting their soldiers in the streets to this “acid test”.  This happened in Pakistan in 1977 when three Brigadiers in Lahore refused orders to shoot into the crowds.

The “empire” had to strike back, well organized pro-Mubarak demonstrators converged on Tahrir Square from all directions on Wednesday February 2.  Comprising elements of the police, National Guard and other State security forces in mufti, they rained Molotov cocktails and stones on the protestors in the “Liberation” Square.  The result was meant to be chaos, sparking of an armed insurrection in which innocents would become collateral damage. While the Army’s presence did prevent a greater bloodbath, the curfew order continues to be violated at will by both the sides.  The regime had to release Wael Ghonim, a Google executive, who sparked the Jan 25 movement with his Facebook campaign, who was received in Tahrir Square on Feb 8 by thousands of applauding protestors.

In Yemen, Abdullah Saleh promised not to run again for President when his term expired in 2013 (like Hosni Mubarak about his heir apparent Gamal, he promised that neither would his son).  King Abdullah sacked his cabinet and like in Egypt reached out first time to the banned Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan. With solid support in Jordan’s largely Bedouin Army, Abdullah’s Bedouin loyalists have been decrying the extravagant lifestyle of his Palestinian wife, Queen Rania, her 40th birthday party rivaled that of the Shah of Iran’s extravaganza celebrating the Anniversary of the Persian monarchy in Persepolis in 1971. Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, etc are among the dominos because of those made “beggars and/or thieves” (beware of the rage of angels) by the opulent lifestyles of the rulers and the elite of leeches surrounding them.

What about the ultimate domino in the Muslim world, Pakistan?  Our military hierarchy excels in giving lip-service to “lessons learnt” and then blithely ignoring them. In stepping back smartly from the “fail-safe line” in Egypt by demanding an immediate transition, at least publicly, the US prevented the revolt in the streets from becoming a full-fledged revolution.  The US certainly learnt some lessons from Egypt, will they stop supporting corrupt leaders in the name of “democracy”, or whatever goes by its name?

Are we anywhere near the “fail-safe” line in Pakistan?


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