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All too familiar

July 12, 2012

NO one should be less surprised than us Pakistanis at the unfolding political drama in Egypt. Suddenly, a nation groaning under authoritarian rule for nearly six decades is grappling with the task of self-governance. How key players behave under the circumstances is familiar to us. Generals who have tasted power have no intention of parting with it; leaders elected by the people hope legitimately to be in the saddle; the judiciary enjoys its newly gained freedom and proves itself to be a stickler for the letter of the law. On Tuesday, the Supreme Constitutional Court annulled President Mohammad Morsi’s decree calling for the assembly to meet. The newly elected assembly was dissolved by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces after the constitutional court declared it illegal on technical grounds. Going against what appears to be a common move by the generals and the judges, the president chose to convene the assembly.

From the very beginning President Morsi has been hamstrung by the generals’ ploys, for the dissolution of the assembly meant he would not be able to pursue his legislative agenda and lawmaking would be done by Scaf by decree. The generals, headed by Field Marshal Hussain Tantawi, have already told President Morsi it is they who will make the budget. More painfully, a new general election cannot be held unless a new constitution is made, and that should take at least another year. This means, if President Morsi still decides to stay on in the presidential palace, Egypt will for all practical purposes continue to be ruled by the military in spite of all that has happened since the anti-Mubarak uprising began in January 2011.

There are two aspects of the present situation: one is the struggle between democratic forces and a military addicted to power; the other is the political forces’ polarisation between the Islamists and secularists. The result of the run-off in the presidential election showed that a sizable section of the Egyptian people believe in a pluralistic society. Their fears that the Brotherhood may turn Egypt into a theocracy deserves to be addressed. That’s the reason why many of them are not averse to collaborating with the military. This is a big mistake, and emphasises the need for President Morsi and his Freedom and Justice Party to take the secularists along in the effort to eliminate the military’s role. Egyptians should learn from Pakistan’s example and realise that the transition from authoritarianism to democracy entails decades of setbacks and sacrifices, and that it is not so easy to push a power-hungry military back to the barracks.