Sunday, August 24, 2014

Why street protests work in Pakistan?

Daniel Markey recently wrote an article on the success of street protests in Pakistan?' (See Why street protests work in Pakistan?). His main arguments is that democratically elected leaders in Pakistan face such protests not only because they face very difficult challenges and weak political institutionalization but also because of their own tendencies to centralize power.
By rights, however, Sharif (and Zardari before him) should not face such a high deficit of popular legitimacy as the one that loomed over Musharraf's tenure. Whatever the flaws of national elections in 2008 and 2013, they were better than what came before, or at least no worse. It is hard to accept that the motivating energy behind the latest round of protests is truly a consequence of voting irregularities. No, today's opposition leaders Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri are opportunistically latching on to whatever charges can be leveled against Prime Minister Sharif and company. Vote rigging, like corruption, is a perennially effective club to wield against most Pakistani politicians and their parties. 
Part of Sharif's present vulnerability to popular protests can be explained by his own policy missteps that have dissipated enthusiasm for his rule. His dealings with the army, for instance, have been rife with tensions over the Musharraf case and the timing of negotiations and military operations against the TTP. In addition, although Pakistan's economy is no worse off than it was before Sharif assumed office (and by many measures, it is probably stronger), the common Pakistani has seen little material benefit. To be fair, even the best schemes for new power plants and Chinese-financed infrastructure cannot be realized overnight, but decades of unfulfilled promises by Pakistani politicians have jaded the public. The summertime heat and persistent power outages undercut Sharif's appeal as a can-do businessman, his calling card in the last election. 
 Yet lots of democracies face setbacks; the anti-incumbent theme of "throwing the bums out" is a universal rallying cry. In countries where democratic institutions are firmly entrenched, however, opposition parties work through parliamentary and electoral systems to accomplish those ends. It is primarily in democratic systems where institutions are weak and ineffective that unconventional forms of political participation, like street protests, are the norm. At least, this is the principal finding of an insightful political analysis comparing democratic states across Latin America by the Inter-American Development Bank in 2009.
By this logic, Nawaz Sharif's main failing -- the one that makes him most vulnerable to street protest today -- is his lack of investment in the institutionalization of democratic politics. That deficit is indeed glaring. Sharif's critics are right to chastise his do-nothing parliament and hyper-centralization of political authority in the hands of a tiny group of cronies.
I argued in my comments that what Markey is saying is right but the role of Pakistan's military cannot be ignored. It is one of the main reasons why such protests (with proportionally very small number of people) succeed:
A more pertinent question is why such SMALL street protests work in Pakistan. The current protest marchers in Islamabad  are around fifty thousand. Pakistan's population is more than 180 million. So, the question is why 0.003% of population can topple a government. Governing through parliament is important and there is no doubt that Nawaz Sharif' has centralized power but many other world leaders have a similarly centralized power and faced big protests and still continue to rule. Two prominent examples are Erdogan and Putin. Both these leaders have a centralized style of governance and faced proportionally bigger protests but still continue to rule. 
It is true that in countries where democratic institutionalization is weak, unconventional forms of political participation (e.g.  street protests) are the norm but do they topple governments? A pertinent example in that of Mexico where in 2006, there were large protests against vote rigging, similar to what is happening in Pakistan now. What was the end result? The Mexican government patiently waited and eventually protests ended.
There is also no need to resort to ruthless force as the Mexican example shows. Protesters in Mexico city camped for months. Pakistani government has to just wait and there is every reason to believe that Imran Khan supporters (who have a more valid case for protest) would fizzle out.
So, why Pakistani government is worried? The answer is history of military involvement in politics and the perception in Pakistan that military is not happy with Nawaz Sharif. This perception of military's displeasure emboldens Sharif's opponents and makes many others to hedge their bets or go against Sharif to protect their interests. For example, most of the news channels in Pakistan report news with a clear bias against Sharif government. They hardly question the legitimacy of having 0.003% of people demanding dissolution of national assembly, using undemocratic means.
Perhaps looking at Turkey in 1997 and in 2013 will clarify my contention. In 1997, a democratically elected government was toppled one year after being elected only by a memorandum by the Turkish military. In 2013, a democratically elected but much more centralized (and maybe more corrupt too) are not toppled. The main difference in 1997 and 2103 was the absence of military's political power in 2013.  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

No-Nos for a Caliphate

Christian Caryl has written an interesting article on Islamic state or more precisely on how to establish a successful caliphate (See 9 Things to Avoid When Creating Your Own Caliphate). In a letter to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the newly (self) proclaimed caliph of IS, Caryl lists the following nine no-nos.
  1. You might want to think twice about wearing a rolex
  2. Don't ban music
  3. Think twice about punishing girls for alleged immodesty
  4. Don't vandalize ancient cultural relics
  5. Try not to include too many foreigners in your army
  6. Don't alienate local notables
  7. Don't prohibit little pleasures
  8. Don't spread disunity among Muslims
  9. Don't declare yourself a caliph
This list appears to be quite insightful, with all the nine measures linked to the mistakes made during recent attempts at establishing 'Islamic' states. Looking again, one can see that almost all of these no-nos can subsumed under two broad themes.
  • Respect local culture and traditions
  • Do not be too strict with the people
These recommendations appears intuitive. Everybody knows that human beings have a powerful affinity with their culture and most of them find it difficult to live under strict rules. The very first Islamic state, established under Prophet Muhammad (PBH), also appears to be following these recommendations. Arab culture was largely adopted or accommodated in Islam. Moreover, the few things in which Islam went against Arab culture were very gradually introduced so that people do not feel burdened (e.g. prohibition of alcohol). Leniency, not strictness, was the hallmark of the first Islamic state.  
The question is then, why Muslim movements continue to go down the same destructive path of rigidity, sternness and hostility toward local cultures?
The problem appears to be the way these states are created. These states are generally created by young zealots and fighters, not experienced thinkers, administrators, scholars etc. The later groups is largely absent not only in the most prominent leaders, but also in the second tier leadership as purity is appreciated and experience (with the previous regime) is considered a sign of hypocrisy and lack of true faith. In pre-modern history, zealots founded states could survive a bit longer because states had less control our people lives and people didn't demand much from their rulers. However, these primitive states also had to eventually accept local culture and govern with compassion, if they had to survive long.
Not surprisingly, the zealous leadership of the recent 'Islamic' states, while comparatively good at conquering territory, find it hard to rule and govern. Killing, looting and destroying are the only skills they have and they continue using them, even when they are not required or disastrous. They long for certainties which are (perceived to be) available during wars but are difficult to keep adhering to when one is governing millions of people over large swaths of territory. Uncertainty is difficult to handle for these leaders and they might feel that God has left them. Iconoclasm is their way to show that they are still faithful to God and seek His support. Banning local traditions and small pleasures in another.    
But, are Caryl's warnings only applicable to successful caliphates or Islamic states? It is obvious no state can survive long, if it didn't pay close attention to these warnings. A very illuminating comparison can be made with the communist states of the twentieth century. While leaders that tried to strictly follow Marxist ideology couldn't survive long, leaders that blended Marxism with local culture survived and endured.
From a religious nationalism perspective, the lesson is that religion is important and people would do a lot to save their souls but local culture cannot be ignored.     

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Hamas and Islamic State

Ali Mamouri has written an article on why there is no love lost between Hamas and Islamic State (of Iraq and al-Sham) (see Why Islamic State has no sympathy for Hamas?). Ali argues that there are some doctrinal reasons why IS does not support Hamas:
Salafists believe that jihad must be performed under legitimate leadership. This argument is advanced through the “banner and commander” concept, which holds that whoever undertakes jihad must follow a commander who fulfills the criteria of religious and political leadership and has raised the banner of jihad. Given that there is neither a legitimate leader nor a Salafist-approved declaration of jihad in Palestine, fighting there is forbidden.
In addition, for Salafists, if non-Muslims control Islamic countries and apostates exist in the Islamic world, the Islamic world must be cleansed of them before all else. In short, the purification of Islamic society takes priority over combat against non-Islamic societies. On this basis, Salafists see conflict with an allegedly illegitimate Hamas government as a first step toward confrontation with Israel. Should the opportunity for military action present itself in the Palestinian territories, Salafists would fight Hamas and other factions deemed in need of “cleansing” from the land and engage Israel afterward.
This approach has its roots in Islamic history, which Salafists believe confirms the validity of their position. Relevant points of historical reference include the first caliphate of Abu Bakr, which gave priority to fighting apostates over expanding Islamic conquests, which occurred later, during the second caliphate, under Umar bin al-Khattab. Likewise, Saladin fought the Shiites and suppressed them before he engaged the crusaders in the Holy Land.
Salafists today see that their priority as fighting Shiites, “munafiqin” (dissemblers, or false Muslims) and apostates, whom they call the “close enemy.” During the current war in Gaza, a number of IS fighters have burned the Palestinian flag because they consider it a symbol of the decline of the Islamic world, which succumbed to national divisions through the creation of independent political states. In Salafist doctrine, the entire Islamic world must be united under a single state, an Islamic caliphate, which IS declared in late June.
So, there are two reasons:
  • According to Islamic doctrine, jihad is only allowed under a legitimate leadership and Hamas is not the legitimate leadership because it fights for democracy and a Palestinian state (while IS fights for God and for an Islamic state)
  • IS has to fight the apostate Muslims first, before fighting the non-Muslims. Purification comes before conquest. So, fighting Shias in Iraq and Syria comes before fighting Israel.
In a recent statement, IS tried to deflect the criticism that it is not helping Palestinians in Gaza by reiterating its commitment to liberating Palestine and destroying Israel. It asked Gazans to be patient as IS is working and is not interested in issuing empty statements like many Arab governments (See Gaza crisis: ISIS vows to help Palestinians fight barbaric Jews).

IS spokesman, Nuseiri, also argued that it is following a systematic approach and has a plan (See ISIS Spokesman Explains Why 'Islamic State' Not Supporting Hamas

However, he pointed out that ISIS has been taking a systematic approach in its campaign, and outlined six specific stages it said needed to be fulfilled before taking on Israel.
Some of those "stages" - building a firm base for an Islamic state in Iraq, and using it as a springboard to wage war in Syria and Lebanon - have already been achieved. But he said a number of other criteria still needed to be fulfilled before challenging Israel directly.
Among them, Nuseiri said that the US - seen as Israel's greatest ally - needed to be weakened politically and economically via attacks on the American mainland, as well as US interests in Muslim countries. Additionally, the existing "Islamic State" needed to expand its borders to cover all of "Greater Syria" (which would include Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and possibly Gaza); such a state, he said, would then be in a position for a direct confrontation with Israel.
IS statement can be taken as few practical considerations (which every successful movement has to take into account) in the expansion of IS Caliphate and this is how IS wants others to see it. However, these doctrinal and practical considerations can also be understood as a camouflage for nationalistic concerns. 

Doctrinally, the claim of legitimacy of IS is weaker than that of Hamas. Neither IS leadership is more pious, nor it has support/baya of most of the pious Muslim leadership. Moreover, jihad needs legitimate leadership when Muslims are attacking. When Muslim lands, homes and persons are attacked (as in Gaza), all Muslims are allowed/required to defend themselves, with or without legitimate leadership.

The argument about 'purifying' and killing apostate Muslims first and non-Muslims later is also weak. When Muslim women and children are being killed in hundreds, it is preposterous (and doctrinally indefensible) to not stop this massacre and focus on killing apostates. The fact of the matter is that IS's main enemies are Shias in both Syria and Iraq so it might also be way to legitimize its own actions. Moreover, as Salafist groups are challenging Hamas in Gaza, IS might want Israel to destroy Hamas so that more radical and doctrinally closer Gazan Salafists may take over.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Head of state must be a member of a certain religion

Following is the new factank article from Pew Research  Center (See In 30 countries heads of state must belong to a certain religion). It lists the countries that require their heads of states to have specific religion.

A new Pew Research analysis finds that 30 of the world’s countries (15%) belong to a unique group of nations that call for their heads of state to have a particular religious affiliation. From monarchies to republics, candidates (including descendants of royal monarchies) in these countries must belong to a specific religious group.
This list includes Lebanon, which requires its president to be a member of the Maronite Christian Church. On Wednesday, Lebanon’s parliament will make a ninth attempt since May at filling the office.
List of countries where the law requires a head of state to be of a certain religion.More than half of the countries with religion-related restrictions on their heads of state (17) maintain that the office must be held by a Muslim. In Jordan, for example, the heir to the throne must be a Muslim child of Muslim parents. In Tunisia, any Muslim male or female voter born in the country may qualify as a candidate for president. Malaysia, Pakistan and Mauritania also restrict their heads of state to Muslim citizens.
Two countries, Lebanon and Andorra, require their heads of state to have a Christian affiliation. Lebanon also has a religious requirement of its prime minister, who must be a Sunni Muslim.
Two other countries require the heads of their monarchies be Buddhist: Bhutan and Thailand. And one country, Indonesia, requires the official state belief in Pancasila to be upheld by its head of state. Indonesia is a Muslim-majority country; Pancasila is a summation of “common cultural elements” of Indonesia, including belief in God.
A handful of countries do not require a particular religious affiliation for heads of state, but do limit candidates for the office to laypersons. Eight countries, including Bolivia, Mexico and El Salvador, specifically prohibit clergy from running in presidential elections. In Burma (Myanmar), the president is prohibited from being a member of a religious order.
Countries where the head of state is a ceremonial monarch.In addition to the 30 countries in this analysis, another 19 nations have religious requirements for ceremonial monarchs who serve as their heads of state. Sixteen of these, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, are members of the Commonwealth of Nations with Queen Elizabeth II – also known as the Defender of the Faith – as their head of state. The other countries in this category are Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
Most of the world’s countries (85%) allow citizens of any religious affiliation to be head of state. In the United States, the Constitution specifically prohibits any kind of “religious test” as a qualification for holding federal or state public office. At the same time, a number of states still have laws on the books prohibiting nonbelievers from holding office. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that First Amendment’s prohibition on the establishment of religion clearly prohibits states from requiring office-holders to profess a belief in God.

Several comments questioned the analysis. For example, Pew's coding of Pancasila (nationalist philosophy of Indonesia) as a religion was considered strange. Others commented on the absence of Vatican state. I also found the analysis problematic and posted the following comments:

If the focus of the article is whether the position of head of state is restricted to members of a specific religion, then all countries that have such restrictions should be listed first. The distinction between the ‘ceremonial monarchs’ and other heads of state, if need be, should have been made later. The way article is organized, it gives a distorted picture.
The headline says, ‘In 30 countries, heads of state must belong to a certain religion’ and these 30 countries are listed and shown on the graph. This gives the impression that other countries do not have such restrictions. It is only later that the author remembers that there are some other countries that also restrict head of state to a certain religion. The obvious question is why these countries are not included in the headline count or the first list? The answer is not clearly given but the implicit suggestion is that these heads of state do not have real power.
This distinction is false as many countries included in the first list also have heads of state that do not have real power. One pertinent example is that of Malaysia. Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, just like Australia, Canada, New Zealand etc. The Malaysian king (head of state) does not have real power, like the British monarch. But still Malaysia is not in the same list as Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Similarly, Pakistan’s presidency (though not a monarchy) is also a ceremonial position with no real powers but still Pakistan is in the first list.
The issue discussed in the article was whether head of state has to be a member of a certain religion. Unfortunately, from the very start, this specificity was lost and other factors like power and type of political system influenced the choices/results of analysis.