Breakdown of the “Grand Bargain” and Emerging Political Order in the Developing World

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Shahid Javed Burki*


(More often than not change that makes history happens slowly, mostly unnoticed. Often it is not linear as shown by the unsteady progress Egypt is making towards developing a democratic system. Why these developments occur is a question left to the historians to answer and argue about. Sometimes revolutions bring about change as happened in the case of the eighteenth century America and France and the twentieth century Russia and China. What we are witnessing now in the Arab world is a revolution. In this article I will explore the relevance of what is happening in the Arab world not only for the countries that are its part. I will suggest that it will profoundly affect the rest of the world as well. And its impact on Pakistan will be significant.)

The Arab Spring is a movement that has brought the citizenry of several countries affected by this unfolding drama to the center stage of politics. If all goes well, those in power will no longer be able to ignore the wishes and aspirations of the people. People will have influence on the making of economic and social policy and policies affecting relations with the outside world. It will not be possible for the leadership in these countries to disregard what the “street” thinks and believes in. Over time “the street” will be replaced by the representatives of the people who will be able to hold the executive branch of the government responsible for the actions it takes. One of the more important consequences of the Arab Spring is the breakdown of what I call the “grand bargain” between the West and the governing elites in the Muslim world. What keeps western leaders awake at night is the fear that they will have to make more than a phone call to persuade the various heads of state to walk their way. They should also lose some sleep over the fact that by slipping over into the neighboring regions, the peoples’ movement may further erode the global presence of the West.

But redefining relations with the West is not the only likely impact of the upheaval in the Arab street that began in January 2011. It will also fundamentally change the way various segments of the society relate to and interact with one another. This second consequence will reach well beyond the Arab world. In fact, it has begun to inspire the disaffected people all across the world to attempt to bring about change in their societies and in the structure of their economies. The outcome of the various movements that are playing out in many parts of the world will be – if they succeed – more equitable sharing of income, wealth and opportunities.

The Arab Springs spreading reach: Bringing out on the street South Asia’s troubled masses

The  Arab  Spring  will  affect  not  only  the  entire  Middle  East and most non-Arab Muslim countries in the area. It is also likely to profoundly impact South Asia. The movement has touched upon several other aspects of the way the citizens in the developing world have been governed.  That is likely to happen not only because a third of the South Asian population – half a billion out of the total of 1.5 billion people – are Muslims. There will be consequences for different countries in the region for different reasons. The peoples’ revolution would have come to Pakistan if the country had not opted in early 2008 for democratic governance. But it will still come through a different route.

The Arab Spring has had – and will continue to have – consequences for political development not just in the Arab and Muslim world. It will significantly affect political development around the globe in both politically developing and developed nations. That this will happen became clear by the popular movement in London in the summer of 2011 when a large number of people rioted in the British capital. The riots and demonstrations spread to other cities in the country and shook the government headed by the Tory party’s Prime Minister David Cameron. People came out in the street to protest against the practices adopted by the police departments in the country’s various cities that were seen to be discriminating against the less privileged segments of British society. People also protested against the curtailment of expenditures on various public programs that benefited the poor. Feelings of relative deprivation were in play again.

What produced the Arab Spring?

It is inevitable that this question will be often asked and draw many explanations. In fact some answers were provided many decades ago by social scientists. In their books published in the late 1960s, the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington2  and political-economist Albert O. Hirschman3, had reason to believe that “relative deprivation” motivates people to react, sometimes to the point that they rebel against the established political and social order. It is not the poor who notice that they are being left behind but the middle classes. The middle classes – the not-so-poor – react to the widening of the various gaps between them and the better positioned people in society. The youth who came out in the streets of the Arab world; supported in India the social activist Anna Hazare in his fight against corruption; turned up in large meetings held by Imran Khan in Pakistan; and challenged Vladimir Putin in the streets of Moscow    belonged to the middle classes.  In each of these cases endemic corruption became the rallying cry. India for instance, “now has a middle class self-confident enough to feel humiliated by paying quotidian bribes and resentful of the rise of baksheesh billionaires. Anna Hazare’s hunger strike became a national political event because it tapped into this anger of the urban bourgeoisie”4. In Pakistan a significant number of those who came to listen to Imran Khan in Lahore and Karachi were troubled by the sharp increase in the incidence of corruption. As in the case of India, people in Pakistan also demanded the creation of institutions that that could exercise some checks and balances on those who currently wield power5.

As Bill Keller, former editor of The New York Times, wrote in an article for his newspaper, “for Russia, it was time of confused quest, a longing to be normalniye lyudi – normal people”. But this quest was denied to them. For many, the endearing confusion of the early 1990s when Communism died and a capitalist system began to take hold, gave way to disillusionment. This was the sentiment that persuaded Huntington and Hirschman to see conflict taking root in changing societies. Keller observes: “It turns out that Russia grew a middle class, but that alone wasn’t enough to grow democracy. For that, you need a generation born innocent…Perhaps the lesson for the other new democracies being born around the globe is it takes time: you can take people of the system, but it’s not easy to take the system out of the people.”6

Fight against corruption

The Indian case: The Anna Hazare movement in India has already exposed the shortcomings in the traditional democratic structure in which the elected parliament does not always seem to represent what the electorate really wants. That is why a large number of people, mostly from the expanding middle class, felt that their economic gains in recent years were not matched by any kind of political profit. Troubled by the fact that while their economic advance was the product of hard work and risk-taking enterprise, large fortunes had been made and were being made by misusing the power of the government. In Hazare they found a “saint-politician” they were happy to support. The Indian system may also need some change as it is not working for the people of the regions that are not preforming that well in the country –they constitute the majority of the Indian population. The income and performance gaps between the states on the west coast compared to those in the country’s east are increasing.  Millions of people in the poorer states feel and resent that the tide of “rising India” is passing them by.

The political establishment’s reaction to the Hazare movement was in keeping with tradition. Those who wield power did not wish to surrender it to a people’s movement. This initial response was to argue that all laws must be made by the parliament – the Lok Sabah and the Raj Sabah, the lower and upper houses – and not be dictated by outside groups. That was how democracies work. “Others can persuade and have their voices heard. But the decision must rest with us” said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh while addressing the Lok Sabah. But when this approach led to the “fast unto death” by Hazare undertaken in a public park, the government led by Manmohan Singh’s Congress Party relented and agreed to incorporate several demands in the proposed legislation made by Hazare. This satisfied the 74 year old social activist who broke his 13-day fast. However, the parliamentary wheels moved slowly and this brought Hazare back into the open four months later – in December 2011. This time he announced a three day fast to be observed in Mumbai, India’s financial, industrial and commercial capital.

As the Financial Times wrote on 28 December, the second day of Hazare’s three day fast, “previous protests by the campaigner rocked India’s political elite as his struggle against corruption has allied the country’s fast growing middle class, which has become increasingly frustrated with the myriad costs imposed on them by a corrupt bureaucracy”7. Once again under pressure, the Lok Sabah passed the bill setting up a reformed anti-corruption apparatus. The bill that still has to receive the approval of the Rajya Sabah, the upper house of the Indian parliament, will create a nine-person board empowered to investigate corruption accusations against bureaucrats and elected officials including the prime minister. The board will have quotas for minorities and will be created by a constitutional amendment. But Hazare and his supporters were not satisfied. “The anti-graft campaigners found this unacceptable as they argued that it would be impossible for Lokpal [the accountability agency proposed in the bill adopted by the lower house of the Indian parliament] to pursue corrupt officials if it did not have a police force working under it.”8  They wanted the Central Bureau of Investigation to be placed under the Lokpal. Under the Congress-sponsored bill, the agency will remain under the control of the government. Hazare “vowed to wage a nationwide campaign to force lawmakers to create an anti- corruption legislation to his liking. After his three-day fast in Mumbai, he plans to travel to New Delhi to ‘court arrest’ by protesting outside the home of Sonia Gandhi, the president of the Congress party.”9 But due to health reasons Hazare had to break his fast after two days and also put on hold the plans to court arrest. On 29 December, the Congress government gave up the attempt to get the bill passed by Parliament since it was not able to muster a majority in the Rajya Sabah, the upper house. The bills approval was postponed to February 2012. The government’s inability to get the anti-corruption measure approved by Parliament capped a bad year for the Indian economy and its politics. “Karan Thapar, a prominent broadcaster, warned that India was becoming a ‘demoralized nation’, losing confidence in itself rather than emerging as a global power after a decade of progress and bereft of leadership”10.

The anti-corruption drive in India is very much a work in progress. The middle classes in Pakistan are equally agitated. However, in its case progress toward some kind of resolution will take much longer than in India. Pakistan’s institutions are considerably less well developed than those in India.

The Pakistan case: Concern with the misuse of power in Pakistan goes back to the early years of the country’s history. The first few efforts at controlling corruption were to identify those suspected of it and to expel them from the corridors of power. Identifying was done by those who wielded power; expelling was done on the basis of laws specifically written for the purpose. In the first decade after independence, the political establishment focused on the purported malfeasance of elected officials. In 1949, when the Muslim League was still in undisputed control of the Government and both the Prime Minister and Governor General were career politicians, the Constituent assembly passed what was called the Public and Representative Offices (Disqualification) Act (PRODA). As its subtitle stated, it provided for the ‘debarring from public life for a suitable period of persons judicially found guilty of misconduct in any public office or representative capacity’”.11 Under the provision of this order, seven cases were referred for investigation and four ex-ministers were found guilty. The order was repealed in 1954.

The second attempt was made several years later when the Elective Bodies’ Disqualification Ordinance was promulgated by President Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s first military leader. The extensive use of this provision added a new verb to the Pakistan-English language as dozens of elected people disqualified under it were said to have been “ebdoed.”

This was clearly a political act; its main purpose was to remove from public life the politicians who were critical of the military’s intervention in politics.

Efforts were made to institutionalize accountability under the political regimes that came to power in the period between the third and fourth military rules. The most ambitious and precedent-setting of these undertakings was by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Under the Ehtesab system established by him accountability was of elected public officials as well as those belonging to bureaucracies and this was entrusted to an autonomous organization that was given the power to investigate and prosecute those suspected of having committed corrupt practices. A separate system of courts was set up to try those alleged to have been corrupt. However, the structure thus created was exploited for political purposes. The Sharif government and those that succeeded it used the power to investigate for political leverage.

The system was kept in place by the Musharraf government and initially was used to bring cases against the officials suspected of corruption. However, the rechristened accountability system now called the National Accountability Bureau was also politicized. The most egregious use of the system occurred in the latter part of the Musharraf period. In an attempt to stay in power, while realizing that he could not stop the country from moving towards democracy, President Musharraf struck a deal with Benazir Bhutto and her party, the PPP. As a part of the deal he issued the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) on 5 October, 2007. According to Transparency International “in many ways, this was a set-back for anti-corruption moves in Pakistan as all proceedings under investigation or pending in any court that had been initiated or involved the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) prior to 12 October 1999 were withdrawn and terminated with immediate effect. NRO also granted further  protection to parliamentarians as no sitting member of parliament or provincial assembly can be arrested without taking into consideration the recommendations of the Special Parliamentary Committee on Ethics or the Special Committee of the Provincial Assembly on Ethics.”12

There are several measures a well-intentioned government could have adopted to improve the quality of governance. Of these four are of particular importance: to establish a system of accountability for all public officials in which the citizenry has confidence, to strengthen the legal and judicial systems, to give autonomy to the judiciary, and to bring government closer to the people. There was some movement on two of these four one of which – autonomy of the judiciary – was forced upon the political system by the civil society. The second – grant of greater authority to the governments at the sub-national levels is still work in progress.

Political succession

Bangladesh, the third largest country in the South Asian mainland, is also struggling to find its political feet. Like other South Asian countries, it has also not been able to institutionalize the process of political transition. Political power if not usurped by military leaders as was in its case and was also the case of Pakistan, tends to flow through dynastic channels.

In Pakistan three major political parties are controlled by families. Pakistan Peoples’ Party is engaged in the process of preparing the third generation after Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to take over its leadership. If the current plans succeed, India’s Congress Party will be handing over the reins of management to the fourth generation. In Bangladesh the two mainstream parties are led by the leaders who owe their positions to the members of their families who were once the country’s presidents. The current prime minister has removed one provision in the constitution through an amendment that had previously ensured some order in the transfer of power. The country’s president will no longer be able to let a care-taker administration take the responsibility for holding elections at the appointed time and in a way that ensured political fairness.

One of the main lessons of the Arab Spring seems to have been lost on the leadership groups in South Asia, in particular on the families that have governed for so long and without being seriously challenged by political processes. One reason why so many people came out on the streets or assembled in public squares in so many different countries was the frustration with the fact that no political means were available for bringing about regime change. It is no coincidence that the three regimes that fell in less than one year had been in place for decades. The presidents of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya had governed for a total of 120 years. Populations frustrated with their performance and seeing no improvements in their own situation chose to rebel rather than continuing to remain passive and tolerant. Popular anger against the regimes increased when it became clear that all three regimes were planning to have their aging leaders replaced by family members.

Breakdown of the grand bargain between the West and the Muslim world

There were many reasons why the street and the public square succeeded in dislodging several long-serving regimes. . One of the more important ones was that the established order did not have the support of the world outside the borders of the countries where people desired change. The “grand bargain” between the political elite and the West that had scaffolded the rule by the former finally broke down.

The Arab Spring has resulted in breaking down what might be called the “grand bargain” between the West and the autocratic governments that had long dominated the Arab and Muslim worlds. This bargain filled the vacuum created first by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the early parts of the twentieth century and followed by the end of colonialism a few decades later in the same century. But the Arab world was too important a geographic space to be left to the devices of the countries that were created, most of them artificially, by the departing colonial powers. What was put in place was an informal arrangement that might be called the “grand bargain”.

It had four components. Three of these were promises of good behavior in terms of the strategic interests of the West on the part of the ruling establishment. The fourth was the implicit – on some occasions explicit – promise by America and Europe to protect the establishment from its own people.

The West wanted the Arab leaders to ensure its access to the vast energy resources of the region. Its dependence on oil from the Middle East increased in the 1990s as the rates of economic growth in almost all countries in this part of the world reached levels without precedence in their recent economic histories. None of the Western capitals wished to live through, once again, the uncertainty and economic upheaval caused by the oil embargo imposed by the Arab oil producers to punish the United States for its unqualified support of Israel. That was the first and only time the Arab governments took collective action to protest what they considered to be the wrong done to the Palestinians by the West, in particular by the United States13.

The West also wanted unhindered access to the economically and strategically important sea lanes that pass through the waters controlled by the countries in the area. The memory of the 1956 nationalization of the Suez Canal by Gemal Abdul Nasser, the nationalist leader of Egypt, while dimmed by time, was still a part of the strategic thinking in the West. The nationalization was the only time that a deep fissure developed among the Western countries in the post-World War era. Britain and France attempted to annul Nasser’s act by sending in their militaries while the United States was troubled by the moves of the two major European powers. The Israelis also moved their troops and flotilla and another war in the Middle East seemed imminent. However, Washington stepped in to prevent any such flare-up. President Dwight Eisenhower successfully pressured London and Paris to pull back their assault troops, the only time the United States took an action that was not totally in favor of the Jewish state.

The third element in the grand bargain was the Arab acceptance of the creation of Israel and the recognition of the Jewish state. A significant step in that direction was taken by Anwar Sadaat then president of Egypt when he signed a peace agreement with Menachem Begin, the prime minister of Israel.   This was on 26 March 1979. The move was not welcomed for some time by the rest of the Arab world. A few months after the signing of the agreement in America, the Arab League expelled Egypt from its membership and moved it’s headquarters from Cairo to Tunis. While the boundaries of Israel were not defined in this agreement or the one signed subsequently with Jordan by Israel, the Israelis kept changing the “facts on the ground” by expanding their settlements deep into the West Bank. They have continued to implement that strategy.

In return for these three parts of the grand bargain, the West implicitly pledged not only to tolerate the Arab regimes but provide them with military support when their existence was threatened by some internal forces. They also allowed the members of the establishment to store their looted riches in the West – in the form of large bank accounts and large real estate holdings. This is one reason why George H.W. Bush, then the American president, went to war in 1991 to expel Saddam Husain from Kuwait after the latter had invaded the country in his immediate neighborhood. Allowing Saddam to stay in Kuwait would have gone against the grand bargain. He had to be expelled.

It didn’t matter that the regimes the West supported were often brutal towards their people and plundered the enormous wealth of the countries over which they presided. Billions of dollars worth of assets were moved to the West by the families and friends of the rulers of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya while the citizens were weighed down by poverty. It should have been seen by the parties involved in the grand bargain that it would not produce a stable economic and political order.

With the Arab Spring having disposed off three long-enduring regimes –in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, in that order – and may succeed in bringing down possibly three more – Bahrain, Syria and Yemen, difficult to say in which order – the will of the people can no longer be ignored. Factoring in what the people want in policymaking has already resulted in the collapse of the “grand bargain”. A new order has already begun to take shape and will affect the relations of the countries in the region with the West, in particular with the United States. One thing became clear: that the evolving political structure will have a strong presence of Islamic groups and parties.

Political development in the Muslim world

For some reasons that will be identified and discussed by historians for decades to come, several countries in the Muslim world began to see a change in the structure of their politics more or less at the same time. Perhaps the rise of Al-Qaeda and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on the United States and the American response made the populations in dozens of Muslim countries to question the systems of governance they had lived under and tolerated for many decades. The Americans began to describe 9/11 as an event that changed the world. That change not only affected them but seems to have contributed to bringing change in the Muslim world as well. What is generally referred to as the “Arab Spring” is the result of the reaction to what had happened in and around the Muslim world.

In some countries such as Indonesia and Pakistan democratic systems that had appeared off and on began to be consolidated. This went further in Indonesia than in Pakistan. The Indonesians have held two open and fair elections since the fall of Suharto and the country is now governed by an elected president and parliament that operates within an accepted democratic framework. The system now works to manage transition from one set of rulers to another. This is ultimately the test of a working democratic system. Even in an established democratic system such as the one India has operated with some success for several decades, the issue of transition remains unsettled. At least in the largest political organization, the Congress Party, leadership has been passing from one generation to another.

This leads to a couple of interesting questions: Why has the Muslim world led the movement to make established political order responsive to the wishes and aspirations of the citizenry? Why have the people living in democratic systems come out on the streets and started to demand change. There cannot be any doubt that the “Arab street” has inspired movements in India, Israel, Spain, Greece, Britain, even in New York’s Wall Street. As Nichloas Kulish of the The New York Times put it in a thoughtful article, the “consensus that had emerged after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union that liberal economics combined with democratic institutions represented the only path forward…has been shaken and broken by a seemingly endless crises.” That consensus was the main theme of Francis Fukuyama’s widely read book, The End of History and the Last Man.14

Disillusionment with western liberal democracy and capitalism is widespread not only in the developing world but also in the parts of the world where these philosophies were developed and put into practice. Policy makers all over the world have been unable to cushion their people from the shocks the economic systems have delivered over the last several years. The real issue in India and in some of the other old democracies is the loss of confidence on the part of the electorate in the political system.

There are perhaps two reasons why the citizens of the Muslim world have led the way in demanding change. First, the autocratic systems in most countries in this part of the world kept their citizens at a distance much greater than was the case in established and democratic systems. The political orders in these nations were inherently unstable. They had to give way once the people found a way of getting organized and coming out in numbers that overwhelmed the security systems. Second, the first reaction to the “grand bargain” that gave the West’s cover to the autocratic regimes took the form of religious upheaval. The rise of Al Qaeda and other like-minded groups may have drawn some recruits from the disgruntled but the vast number of the indignados – as the outraged and the disappointed are called in Spanish – could not possibly find much comfort in this form of Islamic revival. Solutions for them have to be found in the political and economic order that cannot be hijacked by the elite – even if the elite owe their economic and political positions to elections within democratic frameworks. Given the turmoil and uncertainty even within established political and economic systems, the question arises as to what kind of models the Muslim world should follow as it seeks to bring about change?

There is a continuum among Muslim nations that has Turkey and Saudi Arabia occupying the two extremes. There are changes taking place even in these two countries that are poles apart. In late September King Abdullah promised to open up the political system a little when by 2015 women would be allowed to vote in municipal elections and also have the right to be appointed to the Advisory Council. However, even as this announcement was receiving some attention and restrained applause, a Saudi woman was sentenced to receive ten lashes. Her offense: she was driving her car. She was later pardoned by the King. Turkey, on the other hand, was moving in the other direction. It had decided to dilute some of the westernization and a bit of the secularism that had become the defining features of the system bequeathed by Kamal Ataturk. But it has preserved the secular basis of the Turkish state. In between these two extremes are dozens of countries that are attempting to find their political feet. Some of them such as Tunisia and Egypt are working to develop new structures from scratch; some like Bangladesh, Indonesia and Pakistan are struggling to make their systems more egalitarian and representative; some such as Syria and Yemen are still engaged in using the security apparatus to keep the old order in place. In this kind of fluid situation, what would be the role of Islam in the political structures that have begun to evolve in liberated parts of the Arab world?

Islam’s role in the political development of the Muslim world

The breakdown of the grand bargain between the West and the Middle East means that the countries that have managed to get rid of the old and established order are beginning with a clean slate. In designing new political structures and putting into place new economic models they will have to define their approach towards a number of elements that were once part of the grand bargain. Two of these are by far the most important. The first is the nature of the political system and that includes the role of Islam in politics. The second is the role of the state which means the relationship of those who govern and over whom they govern.

In the old and now discarded system, Islam was kept out of politics. The West that was the other party in the grand design, was scared of the influence of Islam and went to some length to deny a place to this particular religion in the political space. For instance, France encouraged the Algerian establishment not to give up power to an Islamic party, the Islamic Salvation Front, that had clearly won in the elections to the national legislature. That was in 1991. Similarly the United States and most of its European allies have refused to accept the political legitimacy of Hamas in Palestine and Hizbullah in Lebanon in spite of that party’s overwhelming triumph in electoral politics of these two political groups. That won’t be possible in the new order that is now emerging in the countries that have freed themselves of authoritarian rule and will increasingly detach themselves from the West.

But bringing Islam into politics does not mean making a political system Islamic. As Humeira Iqtidar, a Pakistani scholar who teaches in London, points out in her new book, the differences between what can be called Islamists, Islamic revivalists, and Islamic fundamentalists should be understood in order to fully comprehend what is happening in most of the Islamic world. For her Islamist movements are concerned with introducing broad Islamic principles and values into the working of the state by using democratic processes15. That has happened in Turkey and will probably happen in many other parts of the Muslim world. Reformist Islam, as the term suggests, means interpreting the religion so that it does not come into serious conflict with modern ways. Improving the social and economic status of women in a Muslim society – allowing women in Saudi Arabia to vote and drive cars, for instance – would be an example of such a move in a conservative society. Those who can be called Islamic fundamentalists are people who belong to, support and sympathize with movements such as Al Qaeda. They interpret the religion in its most fundamentalist sense. But Raza Aslan, the American- Iranian scholar of Islam, points out in his book, How to Win Cosmic Wars, that fundamentalism is not unique to Islam. Similar movements have captured political space in Christian and Jewish societies16. The July 2011 killing rampage in Oslo by Andres Behring Breivik, the Norwegian religious activist, is an example of a fundamentalist action in a non-Muslim society.

The countries in the Middle East where old regimes have fallen are now deeply engaged in this debate as they begin the task of developing new political structures. Of the several theorists and practitioners who have entered the dialogue one of the more important ones is Tunisia’s Rachid Ghannouchi whose party, Ennhada, emerged as the most important political group in the elections held in the fall of 2011. As Anthony Shadid, the Pulitzer Prize corresponded of the The New York Times, writes in an article, Ghannouchi has “suggested a common ambition, proposing what some say Mr. Erdogan’s party has managed to achieve in Turkey; a prosperous Muslim state led by a party that is deeply religious but operates within a system that is supposed to protect liberties”17.

This debate has been picked up by Islamic activists in Egypt, another country engaged in a similar exercise. Political activists such as Abdel Moneim Abou el-Fotouh, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader who is a candidate for the country’s presidency, have joined several breakaway political parties in suggesting that “the state should avoid interpreting or enforcing Islamic law, regulating religious texts or barring a person from running for president based on gender or religion.” The debate in the post-Arab Spring world, therefore, is not about how much influence Islam should have on statecraft. The issue is whether those who are devout can be accommodated within policymaking circles. Egypt’s Center Party a group that tried to gain acceptance from the regime headed by Hosni Mubarak as a legitimate political player has long sought to mediate between religious and liberal forces, even coming up with a set of shared principles as it sought to create some space for itself in the emerging political order. Abul-Ela Madi, the founder of the party has declared, “we’re neither secular nor Islamist. We’re in between”. But the move towards defining a role for Islam in the political lives of the countries that are in a state of political transition will be non-linear; there will be many ups and downs.

In the fall of 2011, the first round of elections to the assembly gave decisive victories to the Islamist parties. Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party won 35 percent of the vote while, more worryingly, another 25 percent went to the puritanical Salafi movement. These parties beat back the challenge from the secular groups. Why did Islamic parties survive as opposed to “secular groups with leftist and pan-Arab ideologies ossified under the weight of repression by successive regimes determined to abolish all potential challenges” asks Roula Khalef and Heba Saleh in their assessment for the Financial Times of religious revival in the Middle East. Their answer: “The Brotherhood, with its message rooted in Islam and spread through mosques and charities, proved harder to eradicate. When Mr. Mubarak fell, the organization – with its longstanding structures and networks – remained the country’s most organized political force, even as new secular and liberal groups scrambled to form parties under the chaotic watch of the ruling military council. Their brand recognition and history of victimization by the previous regime made them the logical for many voters, who saw them as strong and credible agents of change.”18

Even though it is still too early to predict what kind of political order will take shape in the countries that were directly affected by the Arab Spring, one thing is clear. Islam in politics will no longer be a taboo subject. It will be accommodated in some form or other in the political lives of these nations.

The role of the state

What kind of state will emerge once the Arab world, unsettled by recent events, finds its political feet? The answer to this question should take in not only the Arab countries but also some of the states in the non-Arab Muslim world. There are no working models in the Arab countries. But there are some examples in the non-Arab Muslim world that the emerging leadership can look for guidance and inspiration. For instance, Turkey in recent times and in many remarkable ways, has been able to combine Islam with modernity. In Pakistan, in spite of the rise of extremist Islam, the evolving democratic state continues to be dominated by non-religious, essentially secular parties. The largest of these, the People’s Party of Pakistan, has a left-of-center political ideology. Although Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, its founder, based the party’s outlook on what he called “Islamic socialism”, the reference to religion was mostly for optical reasons. The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), the second largest political group, is a right-of-center group that nonetheless believes in liberal democracy. The two other large parties

– the Mutahida Qaumi Mahaz and the Awami National Party – have regional agendas and strong secularist leanings. The political evolution of Malaysia and Indonesia has gone the same route. What are the main elements in these evolving systems in so far as the role of the state is concerned?

There are five of these that must be reflected in the evolution of a representative state in these parts of the world. By far the most important is that laws for regulating the lives of the people will be made by their elected representatives sitting in assemblies and parliaments. Even the Hudood Ordinance in Pakistan that has prescribed severe punishments for those shown to have insulted Islam and its prophet, was put on the books by the national assembly. Its main inspiration was from the time of the British when the colonial brought laws on the books to punish deliberate attempts to ridicule religion and religious practices. This was done in order to pacify the Muslim community of the day that had been highly agitated by and anti-prophet book authored by a Hindu. However, it was adapted by the administration of General Ziaul Haq as a part of its attempt to Islamize the country and passed into law by the administration of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. There is a move to amend the ordinance

– a move that cost Salman Taseer, the governor of the Punjab, his life when he was killed by his bodyguard after having gone public in favor of amending the law – to make it conform to accepted legal principles and practices.

The second element in the role of the state is that a system of courts is needed to protect the citizenry against possible abuses by the state. Most developing countries have weak legal infrastructures.  Without a functioning system of courts, rule of law – a necessary condition for the working of democracy – a representative structure of governance cannot be created. As Francis Fukuyama explains in his recent book on the development of political order, “in the West, in India, and in the Muslim World, there was a body of preexisting law, sanctified by religion and safeguarded by a hierarchy of priests and clerics, that was prior to and independent of the state. This law was seen as being older, higher and more legitimate than the current ruler and therefore binding on him. That is the meaning of rule of law: even the king or emperor is bound by law and not freely to do as he pleases.”19 But for decades the authoritarian rulers of the Middle East and other Muslim countries were able to disregard the rule of law; if it existed at all it did not exist for them. As the new state takes shape, it must be built on the rule of law that is also enforceable and that would mean an independent judiciary and well-functioning system of courts.

The third element in building a representative sate is to bring the security apparatus¸ including the military, under the control of the civilian authority. In the countries in which the military dominated the political space – as has been the case in all the countries of the Arab world and many in the Muslim world – it has not been possible to wean the state from the military. For instance, in Egypt the military is seeking a role for itself in the evolving political order and in Pakistan it continues to operate in a number of vital areas of policymaking in spite of the restoration of constitutional role. It is only in Turkey that a popular political party with Islamic leanings was able to reduce the political authority of the military.

The success of the Arab spring in many countries in that part of the world was made possible by the rising power of the civil society and the institutions that were developed in order to give voice to the citizenry. The success in Pakistan in bringing operational autonomy to higher judiciary was possible because of the work of a number of civil society institutions. Some of these institutions drew their strength by linking themselves with those that had matured over time in the West. This link with the West was exploited by the military in Egypt as it oversaw the process of state-building in that country. On 28 December 2011, the military governing council authorized raids on a number of civil society institutions that had links with the West. Included was the highly respected Freedom House that keeps tabs on the development of democracy and democratic institutions around the world, not just in the developing world.

Ability to work coalitions in the political system is another important element in the working of democratic institutions. It takes time for political parties to develop; it takes even longer before a political system can be dominated by two or three political organizations. The development of the two party system in the United States took more than a hundred years. Even in Britain the current ruling administration is made up of two parties with very different ideologies. In India, coalition governments not only in the center but also in most of the states have become the norm rather than the exception. Pakistan is governed by coalitions in Islamabad as well as in the provincial capitals.  In the Arab world, the evolving democratic systems seem to be moving towards coalitions that will be built around Islamic parties that are gaining ground. However, while coalition politics may succeed in bringing in Islamic parties in the mainstream, it is not clear how groups such as Hezbollah20 in Lebanon or Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan could be absorbed in the political system.


That the Arab Spring has profoundly changed the Middle East and affected the region’s relations with the West is now well recognized. But several other consequences of this convulsion are not fully appreciated. The impact of the spontaneous movements that have already brought down three regimes and may lead to the fall of several other will be felt in areas beyond the Middle East. It will impact the non-Arab Muslim world and also the more developed political systems in the West as well as in the emerging world. The Arab Spring has reached many places beyond the Middle East – Britain, India, Russia, the United States to mention a few. The Russian case is particularly interesting. As Masha Gessen, a Russian scholar has written: “With Russians taking to the streets to protest the recent flawed parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has suddenly ceased to be an inevitable leader. He may think that this spring he will be elected president – the job he held from 2000 to 2008 – and serve up to 12 more years in that office. But I, like many other Russians, think the regime will fall before the March election or soon after.”21 The popular uprising against the Putin regime took its inspiration from the Arab Spring.

The impact of these movements goes beyond the tactics used by the activists who showed that there is great strength in numbers. Even the regimes that have ruthless security apparatuses at their command cannot – and will not be able to – face the streets’ onslaught. Activists in several countries have demonstrated that they can keep pressure on the rulers even when the primary reason for getting out on the street or in the public square has been served by the removal of unpopular but powerful regimes. This happened in Egypt as the military rulers attempted to bend in their favor the change in the political system that resulted from the demise of the Hosni Mubarak government. The street succeeded in making its presence felt in not just dislodging long-serving regimes. The anti-corruption movement in India led by the activist Anna Hazare shows that causes can motivate the disaffected and the unhappy as much as unpopular regimes.

A somewhat more subtle consequence of the Arab Spring is that it has introduced another form of “checks and balances” within established political systems. Peoples’ power as expressed by assembling in the street or in the public square has now introduced a check on the exercise of executive power. This goes beyond the restraint that comes from the authority vested in the legislatures and the judicial systems. In Pakistan, for instance, “the war of the jalsas (public rallies)” has introduced this element of a new form of check on the governing elite.


1 This article builds on the material presented in the author’s four-part series published in October 2011. See Shahid Javed Burki, “Breakdown of the ‘Grand Bargain’” Parts I to IV in The Express Tribune, 2, 10, 17, and 24 October, 2011.

2 Samuel P. Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies, New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1968. The book was republished in 2006 with a foreword by Francis Fukuyama.

3    Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice and Loyalty, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968.

4    Chrystia Freeland, “For India, swift growth and rapid rot”, The International Herald Tribune, 18 November, 2011, p. 2.

5    Shahid Javed Burki, “Imran Khan’s political rise”, ISAS Insight No. 148, 27 December  2011,  Institute  of  South  Asian  Studies,  National  University  of Singapore.

6    Bill Keller, Putin’s Children, The New York Times, 26 December 2011, p. A21.

7     James Fontella Khan, James Crabtree, “Hazare begins Mumbai hunger strike”, Financial Times, 28 December, 2011, p. 2.

8              Ibid.

9              Jim  Yardley  and  Vikas  Bajaj,  “Lower  house  of  Indian  parliament  passes anticorruption measure”, The New York Times, 28 December 2011, p. A10.

10  James Lamont, “India cries foul as push for anti-graft law fails” Financial Times,

31 December 2011, p. 4.

11  Henry Frank Goodnow, The Civil Service of Pakistan: Bureaucracy in a New Nation, New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 164, p. 66.

12  Syed Adil Gilani, “Pakistan” in Transparency International, Global Corruption Report, 2009, Berlin 2009.

13  One of the more insightful studies of how oil has molded the relations of the countries in the Middle East that are large producers and exporters of this commodity and the West that depends to a growing extent on this source is Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power, New York, Free Press, 1993.

14  Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man. New York. Free Press, 1992.

15 Humeira Iqtidar, Secularizing Islamists?: Jamaat-e-Islami and Jama’at-ud- Dawa in Urban Pakistan, Chicago, Ill., University of Chicago Press, 2011.

16  Reza Aslan, How to Win Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror, New York, Random House, 2009.

17  Anthony Shadid and David D. Kirkpatrick, “Activists in Arab World vie to define Islamic state”, The New York Times, 30 September, 2011, pp. A1 and A12.

18  Roula Khalaf and Heba Saleh, “A religious revival”, Financial Times: Analysis, 30 December, 2011, p. 5.

19  Francis Fukuyama, The Origins of Political Order. New York, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011, p. 121.

20  For an analysis of the rise of Hezbollah see Nicholas Blanford, Warriors of God, Inside Hezbollah’s thirty-year struggle against Israel, New York, Random House, 2011.

21 Masha Gessen, “A world without Vladimir Putin”, The Washington Post: Outlook, 18 December 2011, p. B2. Gessen is the author of the forthcoming book, The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.