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Tahrir Square is still far away

January 06, 2013

Abdul Samad, 42, who is from the Middle East but is visiting Pakistan, smiles whenever he hears Pakistanis mention Tahrir Square - the famous square in Cairo, where thousands of protestors gathered on January 25, 2011, and stayed put till the overthrow of the thirty years old dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak.

Tahrir Square has been re-injected into Pakistan’s political vocabulary, after Canadian-Pakistani religious scholar, Tahirul Qadri, returned to Pakistan and on December 23, 2012 declared that he will hold the biggest “Tahrir Square gathering in the world in Islamabad, on January 14, 2013.

Qadri claims that he will bring four million people to Islamabad. At the height of the Tahrir Square revolution in Cairo, the numbers reportedly never exceeded three hundred thousand.

“Bakistanis (Arabic for Pakistani) are clueless about Tahrir Square,” claims Samad, candidly in his Middle Eastern accent, sitting at an outdoor café in Islamabad.

When asked to explain, he replies: “How can Bakistanis or anyone else in the world understand what is happening in Tahrir Square, when Egyptians have not understood the changes happening in their country?”

People sitting around Samad’s table in the café, look at him, with confusion on their faces.

Samad reading the confusion adds: “Tahrir Square was the first electronic revolution in the world. Whatever happened - all of it was organised through the social media. Even today no leader or political party in Egypt can claim complete ownership of what happened or happens in Tahrir Square. Basically one can’t define Tahrir Square. It has no definition.”

According to Samad, the kind of environment that exists in Cairo does not exist in Islamabad.

“In the recent Tahrir Square protests, which took place in reaction to the constitutional reforms of President Morsi, the Egyptian civil society directly battled it out with the religious parties on the streets and won. The religious parties had to retreat. But can the Pakistani civil society put up a fight against religious parties on the streets,” Samad asks the Pakistanis gathered around the table.

The question goes unanswered.

Samad – after having interacted with Pakistanis from different walks of life – puts forward three reasons why Pakistanis are stuck in a time warp, when it comes to Tahrir Square.

“First the Saudi model – many Pakistanis look at all things Middle Eastern from a Saudi-Gulf prism - second the occidental model – in which many Pakistanis just generalise Arabs as backward ‘camel jockeys’ – third the army model – because Pakistanis are in awe of their army, they think Egyptians have the same limitation.”

But at the table there is also confusion about Tahirul Qadri, a gentleman who claims to have a Tahrir Square franchise.

Samad asks the obvious question, which a lot of Pakistanis are still asking: “Who is this guy?”

Bringing novelty to the discussion is Adnan Ahmed, 32, a Pakistani, who went to school in the US.

This is how Adnan answer’s Samad’s query: “If one were to see some of his (Qadri) videos, available on social media, he comes across as a Southern Baptist preacher in the US – where it is common for preachers to claim that they have had direct conversations with people who lived hundreds of years ago.”

A journalist sitting on the table adds: “The media in general have rejected his ideas. Even though in his public appearances, he used the standard vocabulary that the media often employs to attract and provoke urban audiences - corruption, economic collapse, feudalism etc...”

“So it hasn’t worked,” wonders Samad.

“I don’t know anyone who has bought into his theories,” says Adnan.

“The excitement seems to have evaporated, after the military spokesperson clarified that the army is firmly behind the democratic dispensation,” adds the journalist.

“Then what options does Qadri have,” asks Samad.

No options. The show must go on, is the general consensus on the table.

“But whatever happens on January 14, in Islamabad, it will not be a Tahrir Square,” insists Samad.

“Hanooz Tahrir Square Dur Ast (Tahrir Square is still far away),” chimes in Adnan.