Musharraf, Mubarak and Presidential Absolutism
By Dr Ahmad Faruqui
Danville, California

At age 23, Louis XIV ordered his ministers to assist him with their counsels only when he asked for them and further ordered them “to seal no orders except by my command. . . I order you not to sign anything, not even a passport . . . without my command.” That man, who would one day say, L'etat c'est moi (I am the state), was the poster image of the absolute monarch.
During that era, absolutism allowed kings throughout the globe to make laws, tax, administer justice, control the state’s administrative system, and determine foreign policy without any checks and balances. Today, presidents such as Musharraf and Mubarak carry on the legacy of absolutism.
There are rumors that Musharraf plans to amend the constitution of Pakistan to allow for a presidential form of government. One wonders why, since constitutional restraints have not prevented him for ruling Pakistan as its chief executive for five-and-a-half years.
The general’s information minister has announced that Musharraf will seek re-election in 2007. Even though this has been characterized as the ministry’s personal opinion, it cannot be dismissed lightly since he had successfully predicted that contrary to Musharraf’s assertions, the general would not take off his uniform because to do so would not serve the “national interest.”
Should the general win the 2007 election, and the minister will see to that, Musharraf will be cleared to lead the country for 13 years, longer than any prior military ruler in Pakistan. But he would still be a distant second to Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, who has already ruled for 24 years. Mubarak, who was vice president under Sadat and commanded the Egyptian Air Force as an air marshal, has been “elected” four times in polls with no opposing candidates. It is difficult to recall how many prime ministers have come and gone on his watch.
Soon after the parliamentary elections in the fall of 2002, Musharraf was asked by a reporter to name the next prime minister of Pakistan. He replied with a counter question: “How many know the name of the prime minister of Egypt?” None did. Then he asked, “How many know the name of the president of Egypt.” Everyone did, allowing Musharraf to close off the discussion with Euclidean logic.
He then plucked one Zafarullah Khan Jamali out of obscurity and installed him as the prime minister. Within a year, Jamali was gone and replaced with Shaukat Aziz, the general’s finance minister, who had never held political office nor lived in Pakistan for three decades.
Now there is word that Aziz may be on the way out and his commerce minister, Humayun Akhtar Khan, son of the late General Akhtar Abdur Rehman, the ISI chief who conducted General Zia’s Afghan jihad, may be the next one in.
Once again, Musharraf may find himself competing with Mubarak, who will be seeking a fifth six-year term as president when Egypt holds its first multi-party elections in September. Why? Because President Bush wants it. In early February, President Bush publicly challenged Mubarak to open up Egypt’s political system. In May, Bush decreed, “Egypt will hold a presidential election this fall. That election should proceed with international monitors and with rules that allow for a real campaign.”
Like Aziz, Egypt’s new prime minister, is a well-educated and competent technocrat but that cannot hide the fact that he is a political pygmy. Ahmed Nazif, with a doctorate in engineering from Canada’s McGill University, had previously served as the minister for communications and information technology in Atef Obeid’s cabinet.
Nazif has predicted that Mubarak will win the elections in September since it “will be difficult to challenge him.” In an interview with Business Week, he qualified this statement as a personal opinion. Rumors are rife that in 2011, Mubarak will turn over the presidency to his son, Gamal Mubarak. When Nazif was asked about that possibility, he countered: “Is it really forbidden for a son of a President to be active politically?” Gamal is active politically and has rebuilt the ruling National Democratic Party into a serious force that draws businessmen and academics.
Perhaps that is where the analogy between Musharraf and Mubarak will have to end. Musharraf, who has not revealed any succession plan, is unlikely to be followed by his son who lives in the US.
The Egyptian constitution was amended last week through a referendum to allow a multi-party election to be held. In that respect, Pakistan is much further along in its political evolution. Egypt has no secular parties to speak of. The only opposition party of any note is the Muslim Brotherhood, which boycotted the referendum and will probably not be allowed to participate in the September election. Pakistan has two mainstream secular parties that have been in power several times and several religious parties.
But even then, the similarities between Musharraf’s Pakistan and Mubarak’s Egypt outweigh the differences. Both have solidly allied themselves with the Bush administration’s war on terror. While a lunatic fringe feels that the best way to establish God’s rule on earth is to contravene his precepts and kill innocents, the vast majority in both countries has condemned terrorism. Even then, the majorities find it hard to endorse the manner in which their governments have blindly supported Washington. Anti-Americanism has reached high levels in both countries. The US Congressional Research Service, while lauding Pakistan’s contributions to the war on terror, has noted recently that Pakistan has the highest incidence of anti-Americanism in the globe. A Zogby International poll showed that nine out of ten Egyptians disapproved of US polices, even though Washington has given Cairo $50 billion since 1975.
Egypt, one of the world’s top tourist destinations, is fast becoming a torture destination. Without ever having been a top tourist destination, Pakistan is catching up on Egypt as a torture destination. Human Rights Watch has focused attention on how American FBI agents turned a blind eye to the confinement and alleged torture of two American brothers who were held in Pakistan without charges during an eight-month period. In an Orwellian twist, Pakistani police would not open up a case against the kidnappings since intelligence agencies were involved in its execution. This crime was sanctioned by absolutism.
While pushing Mubarak to hold “real elections,” the Bush administration is not doing the same to Musharraf. Egypt, as the largest Arab country, certainly holds the key to what happens in the Middle East. But Pakistan, as the Muslim world’s only nuclear power and second largest nation, holds the key to what happens in the entire Muslim world.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.