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Principled stand: Nawaz Sharif on Egypt

Updated July 28, 2013

IN calling for the immediate release of deposed Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi and for the restoration of ‘democratic institutions’ as early as possible, Prime Minister Sharif’s Foreign Office has taken a tougher line on events in Egypt than has been the case since turmoil erupted in that country two and a half years ago. There has been considerable violence in Egypt recently, and undoubtedly informed by his own personal experience with coups, Mr Sharif, who has kept the foreign ministry portfolio with himself, has staked out an interesting position on the Middle East. Several Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, whose leadership is a long-standing supporter of the Pakistani prime minister, backed the Egyptian army after its ouster of Mr Morsi and announced a $12bn emergency aid package to help stabilise the unravelling Egyptian economy. So, at the very least, the Foreign Office spokesperson’s comments on Egypt on Friday indicates the willingness of the Sharif government to take a contrarian stance where principle demands it.

To call for Mr Morsi’s release and for the quick return of Egypt’s nascent democratic process is the right stance. The Pakistani experience suggests that given a choice between problematic civilian leadership and a self-righteous military one, the former is always preferable. But Mr Sharif would do well to also focus on what Mr Morsi did wrong in his year in charge, if only to help himself better navigate Pakistan’s own fraught civil-military ties. In some ways, Mr Morsi’s year in power echoed the Sharif governments of the 1990s: an instinct to push hard and push immediately against entrenched power structures instead of consolidating power quietly and more methodically. Over the life of the last assemblies and since coming to power, Mr Sharif appears to be a changed man. In truth, however, he has yet to take up issues that go to the heart of the military’s institutional interests. Only when Mr Sharif turns to those matters will the country truly know just how much he has changed and how capable he is to guide the country towards civilian supremacy.