Recent developments in Ukraine show that events in Egypt were not an isolated phenomenon. They also reject the idea that democracy does not suit Muslims, but indicate a kind of malaise with the democratic system.

Democracy as we know it, is the result of political developments in Western Europe in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, as well as in North America. In the 20th century, it has been placed on the Great Political Pedestal, even though the timing of its genesis indicates that it was in many ways, merely the political vehicle for capitalism.

Marx and Engels saw this ‘bourgeois’ democracy as the mechanism whereby all over Europe, the political power of feudalism was overthrown, and replaced by that of capitalism. There is thus an appropriateness of the protests in Ukraine, once a part of the USSR, and so imbued with the concepts of ‘socialist democracy,’ which prevailed until the collapse of the USSR.

The protests in Egypt showed that the election victory by the Muslim Brotherhood candidate in the presidential election was about as unacceptable as the FIS victory in the first round of the 1991 Algerian elections (which was followed immediately by a military takeover). Elections are just not supposed to yield victories for the opponents of capitalism, for example communists, with the most memorable example being that of Salvador Allende, who was elected President of Chile, but was overthrown in 1973. The success of the late Hugo Chavez in Venezuela is interesting, because he was both anti-American and a former commando. In Chile, Algeria and now Egypt, the overthrow of the regimes was by means of the Army. In the first, the coup was followed by the leader of the coup taking the Presidency, and in the second, the President had been part of the 1965 military coup. In Egypt, the military chief is looking to fight an election.

It might seem reasonable to conclude then, that even militaries can be instruments of capitalism. This has implications for Pakistan. First, those who have won elections in Pakistan are complicit, or have been approved by capitalist elements. Secondly, Islamist parties which look to elections as a means of gaining power, have either worked enough with capitalism to have their teeth drawn, or have no hope of gaining power.

It is perhaps instructive that the protests in Ukraine have been sparked by the failure of the government to accept the European Union’s terms of joining. The EU is not just a capitalist organization, but covers the area where capitalism first took root. The focus of the world has shifted to the USA, but perhaps the EU is an attempt to turn it back. EU expansion eastwards raises the impression that it has been the biggest beneficiary of the collapse of the Soviet Union. It has benefited not just from the accession of former Soviet satellites, but of actual Soviet constituents. However, previous Soviet accessions were of the Baltic states. Ukraine would bring the first Slavic ex-Soviet republic into the EU. It would also bring much more of the Black Sea coast into the EU. The EU already has significant interests in the Black Sea because of Romania and Bulgaria, while if Turkey was also to accede, as it is negotiating to, the EU would control the Dardanelles, achieving what Europe has aspired to since the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453; control of the point where the Black Sea enters the Mediterranean.

These might be seen as ‘new democracies’ experiencing growing pains. But then, is it to be assumed that Italy, which has had continuous elections since 1945, is also a new democracy? One of the salient features of recent Italian politics has been the rise of the comedian Beppe Grillo and his Five-Star Movement, which has reached the Italian Parliament. Grillo has parallels with Imran Khan. Not only is he an outsider, but is also a showbiz personality. Also, he does not want to leave politics to ‘traditional’ politicians. A populist, he has won imitators in Greece, and in other European countries, which have suffered, like Italy and Greece, from being reined in by austerity imposed by the ECB.

These anti-politician politics have been taken up by Arvind Kesriwal, who ended his brief stint as Delhi Chief Minister recently, and his Aam Aadmi Party. The ability of the AAP to elbow aside the BJP in Delhi is indicative of a disaffection of the Indian voter with the traditional parties of power. Such disaffection is serious in the world’s largest democracy, which is also accounted strong, as it has been unbroken by military coups since Independence in 1947.

Pakistan is one of those countries afflicted by military coups, but democracy seems to be facing challenges in two other countries where the military has intervened often enough: Turkey and Thailand. Like Pakistan, both are US allies. The military ties of both to the US serve as an indication that the USA values their militaries more than their political classes. Thailand has recently had a very tense election. It was preceded by Bangladesh, where the recent election might well reflect a reversal of an important democratic dogma: that the people must be allowed to decide the government of the country. Bangladesh saw the Awami League win an election that can only be described as flawed, mainly because the opposition Bangladesh National Party decided to boycott.

The BNP boycott indicates one of the main stresses that democracy faces: that of the government agreeing to submit itself to a mechanism determined by a mandate of the people. Other examples, such as Turkey, where there were protests in Taksim Square last year, and Tunisia and Libya, where the Arab Spring had indeed thrown up alternative governments, do not seem to have solved people’s problems, as they aspire towards a European ideal of democracy.

Democracy means many things. If it is understood as a method of selecting government, that is one thing. but if given the quasi-mystical significance so often attributed to it, it just cannot burden the load.

 The writer is a veteran journalist  and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.

Email:maniazi@nation.com.pk