Hearing Engi El Haddad talk about Egypt and the Arab spring, I could not help but draw parallels with Nepal. Haddad is a social and political activist who was actively involved in planning the January 28 protest that brought down the regime in Egypt in 2010. She is quick to admit that no particular leader or group had orchestrated the protest. Instead, it was the anger and frustration of the large number of Egyptians that culminated into an uprising. She shared a striking anecdote about how her party had chosen the slogan “Democracy, Freedom and Social Justice” for the final day of the protest.
But, by the time the masses started chanting it, the slogan had changed to “ Bread, Freedom and Social Justice”. This reflects how after years of frustration and disappointment, discontented Egyptians finally took to the streets to claim their basic rights. Ms. Haddad believes that Egypt’s revolution is not an outcome but rather a process. It is, in fact, a transition that will have to address the high expectations of the Egyptians and crush the prevailing culture of corruption while promoting religious tolerance.
After talking to Haddad, I realized that as a country in transition, Nepal faces questions similar to Egypt. After the abolishment of monarchy, the Maoist party with its credential of leading the people’s war in Nepal, made several promises in the 2008 general elections. Disillusioned with the Nepali Congress, UML and other parties that had broken their promises made to the citizens in previous elections, Nepalis were hoping the Maoists would be different. However, their pale performance in the last four years has dashed all such hopes.
Like in Egypt where there are now talks on religious tolerance, Nepal also needs a strong platform to discuss ethnicity. Nepal has always been ethnically diverse and complex and many ethnic groups were under represented in the past. Constituent Assembly leaders need to be involved in serious discussions and exhaustive deliberations on how to address these issues.
Finally, Nepal also needs to address its culture of corruption. Just a revolution will not change old habits. It will take a conscious effort on the part of the government, civil society and citizens to tackle the issues of corruption. It’s a good sign that few ex-ministers are now jailed in corruption cases. However, to change the culture of corruption, such judicial actions against corrupt individuals and organizations should be taken more promptly.
Revolutions in Nepal have always been spearheaded by various groups, be it the Nepali Congress or UML in 1990 or the Maoists in 1996. However, almost none of the revolutionaries have been committed to their promises. They were often too preoccupied in outlining their party ideologies or pushing their case to actually realize the desires of the Nepali people. After a decade long civil war that lead to the removal of monarchy and finally a constituent assembly, the revolutionary leaders (across all parties) have a great opportunity to engage in a sincere discourse to build Nepal. But even such deliberations can’t be indefinite and without any time frame else it will just test the patience of people, who are getting poorer and more frustrated by the day.
Hopefully, the leaders reaching a consensus on the contentious issue of PLA integration into the army is a sign of this deliberation moving forward. If there is anything that we can learn from countries like Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, it is that the citizens can be tolerant only for so long. Force and power can intimidate them for a while but cannot suppress their demands for basic rights forever. Such disillusionment and exasperation can fuel a collective revolution of the masses, even if it means a revolution without any leader.
The author is a graduate student at Harvard Kennedy School of Government