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Frail Coalition Hanging Together/Separately
The so-called Arab Spring which, arguably, had its genesis in an intolerably long, unbelievably brutal and suppressed Winter of Discontent was made possible by the technology which facilitated mass mobilisation on an unprecedented scale and saw motley groups with no necessarily identical agenda making common cause to confront a common and seemingly impregnable enemy.
At first blush, they appeared to be a coalition of sorts but were, realistically, what the late British statesman Winston Churchill might have characterised as “co-belligerents.” Take Egypt for example. After confronting “marching, marching army boots, marching threatening army boots” there’s now the uneasy feeling that the successful revolution has been stolen from the protesters.
Their inability to maintain “a common front” facilitated a more organised faction with its own peculiar agenda, ostensibly to form an unholy alliance with the army. That army had hitherto been loyal to the Hosni Mubarak dispensation and may have dubious vested interests not in consonance with that of those who wished for a new beginning and presumably a fresh start. But that’s how the cookie crumbled and, historically, it’s not unknown for revolutions to cannibalise themselves and chew away at their own entrails.
It’s hardly a secret that entities in coalition mode are open to the option of “hanging separately” when they experience insuperable difficulty in “hanging together.” I recently saw a caption, to wit “Egypt on the brink,” and I understand that there were still confrontational protests in Egypt marching to the mantra, “If we’re not allowed to dream, you’ll not be allowed to sleep.” I hope it won’t turn out to be the case of “an irresistible force facing off with an immovable object.”
It’s quite obvious that a country cannot be in continuous revolutionary mode and sooner rather than later the social and political modalities have to be reconciled with the unrelenting economic realities. Besides this, attention has to be paid to some form of constitutional context that lends a measure of cohesion to the diverse, possibly disparate, groups that form the nascent society, thereby obviating unnecessary splintering at the inevitable faultlines.
Speaking in constitutional terms, the overarching issue is that of recognising the human worth of the individual member of the society and replacing “the law of the ruler with the rule of law or, in metaphorical terms, showing a preference for the judge’s gavel rather that the general’s baton.
I listened to an interview given by one of the key figures in the post-Tunisia “revolutionary period,” where it all started, and he was stressing the point that there need be no fear that Shaira law would be thrust on anyone. Tunisia would not be a theocratic state, the rights of all religious persuasions will be respected. Some hope!
He even made the comically unrealistic suggestion that both the right of a woman to wear hijab or bikini would be protected. Under the former regime, he and other others were imprisoned and tortured and they struggled hard to get rid of that odious and cruel dictatorship.
He posited the view that his country should be guided by the “best values embodied in the religious persuasions of Islam and Christianity.” The interviewer was a bit, more that a bit, sceptical, given that the more dogmatic and radical loose cannons tend to be “the proverbial flies in the ointment.”
Given the fluid and turbulent state of the global political and economic climate—where a country can be considered “developed one moment” and sadly in the dumps the next—the “chattering heads on the talk show circuit” could well find it worth their while to pay some attention to the issues of constitution formulating and so-called constitutional reform. I’m not confining my comment specifically to the local scene.
I’ve formed the view, mistakenly or not, that there is the unfortunate tendency to approach constitutional reform exercises in a haphazard “cut and paste” fashion. Inevitably, that process results in lack of focus, coherence and possibly overarching themes.
In my humble view the approach should be that of considering the available constitutional choices in the context of the structural inferences from the relevant intentions. One should also be acutely aware of the sort of moral and political premises that are adumbrated on the document.
I’m not here referring to specific religious persuasions or commitment to theocratic considerations. Contrary to a statement from a once highly placed individual, our current Republican Constitution does not, as far as I gather, give any official the legitimate power to select one individual as against another for prime ministerial honours on the basis of “moral and spiritual values,” however much his personal opinion might sway in one direction or another.
In fairness to then President Arthur NR Robinson, it ought to be pointed out that such imagined authority that he erroneously probably assumed to have had was tacitly quite foolishly and improperly “conferred” on him by the two individuals who placed the ball squarely in his court.
On a more serious note, I might add that a constitutional system should be such that it endures even as it evolves and should fairly reflect a repository of past political compromises as well as projections and future aspirations.
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