On the face of it, there might not be any resemblance between Mohammad Mursi and Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, respectively the President-elect of Egypt and the new Prime Minister of Pakistan, but they do represent a change of government in the two of the largest and similar Muslim countries, and though they came to their present offices because of vastly differing historical processes, they both represent a change. However, it would be most appropriate to look at the differences.

First, Mursi belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Ikhwanul Muslimeen, the Arab equivalent of the Jamaat-i-Islami Pakistan, for which the PPP has always had a strong distaste. If for no other reason, Raja Pervaiz would not get along with Mursi. Also, Mursi has been elected President, and will head the government as such, while Raja Pervaiz has been elected Prime Minister, and that too because of a decision by the President. That President has a close link to the PPP, being its Co-Chairman, but Mursi is not only not the head of the Ikhwan, but has actually resigned from it.

Yet at the same time, they share the same problem: their army. In Egypt, this is represented by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has ruled ever since the Arab Spring protests with their most potent expression, the Tahrir Square protests in Cairo, leading to the Spring’s biggest success, the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

In Pakistan, the military also has a special place, and both countries are not just important, but vital, to the USA; Egypt because of Israel, Pakistan because of Afghanistan.

Egypt is, perhaps, at the stage Pakistan was in 1988, when the people had decided that there had been enough of direct military rule, but the military was not giving up so easily. The PPP has always contended with the military for power, with the result that other parties have had to join hands either with the military or the PPP itself. The Ikhwan in Egypt has also been associated with the military, even though it was persecuted rigorously under Nasser. In Egypt, the Ikhwan got involved with the military during the Afghan jihad of the 1980s, and many of the Ikhwan splinters ended up in Al-Qaeda. It must not be forgotten that the current Al-Qaeda head, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, is an Egyptian.

However, whereas the PPP in 1988, though placed in no bed of roses, did have a Constitution, the Ikhwan in Egypt do not even have that. There was a delay in the declaration of results for the second round, which was between Mursi and Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last Prime Minister and a former Air Force Chief (like Mubarak). The SCAF would, probably, have liked Shafik to win, as he was a ‘safe pair of hands’. Before declaring the result, the regime dissolved Parliament, only just elected, in a move reminiscent of the cancellation of the Algerian polls in 1991, which the Salvation Front won. The SCAF also placed large swathes of governance outside the President’s competence, including the place of the armed forces and their economic interests. Also, outside his competence will be the making of peace and war, as well as relations with Israel and the USA.

Mursi does not only belong to a party that found itself on the American side in the Afghan jihad, but also has a personal link to the USA - not just having done his doctorate in engineering from an American university, but having worked in NASA before returning to Egypt. However, the SCAF does not trust him, or any civilian, with foreign relations. This might seem justified by his speaking of improving ties with Iran.

This brings into focus the fact that though four Arab rulers have fallen, including three in the Maghreb, the Arab Spring is not yet over. There is a very bloody struggle going on in Syria most notably, and that in Bahrain is not completely over. While in Bahrain Iran supports the Shia opposition, it also supports the Alawite regime in Syria. Friendship with Iran is also not good for Egypt-US relations because America wants Iran isolated internationally, and would not want any Iranian involvement in the Middle East.

This is another point of resemblance with Raja Pervaiz, who along with many other problems, inherited from Yousuf Raza Gilani a bad relationship with the USA, with a failure to reopen the Nato supply route. Perhaps, the most destabilising factor in the relationship has been Pakistan’s reluctance to let go. However, the big difference is that while Mursi is no longer bound by Ikhwan discipline, Raja Pervaiz is by the PPP’s. If the Ikhwan are anti-American, the PPP government has so far been anxious to prove its credentials to the USA, and show that it is best suited to carrying out its agenda in the region. This is why it not only has tried to do the US bidding on Afghanistan, but has also tried to get closer with India, which the USA is building up as a regional counterweight to China, and whose regional disputes it wants to see settled on Indian terms.

Here the Presidency becomes important. Though Raja Pervaiz is Prime Minister under a prime ministerial Constitution, he has been selected for the job, just as his predecessor was, by the President, Asif Ali Zardari. Raja Pervaiz is also supposed to refrain from writing a letter to Switzerland. In short, he is supposed to do what his predecessor did, and run the same risk. On the other hand, Mursi will become President. Though he owes his election to the Ikhwan, he has suddenly become bigger than it. And though he could be removed by the military, he does not have any court orders to obey. That also shows how the Egyptian judiciary, unlike the Pakistani, still seems a part of the establishment, not an independent organ of state.

Whether Mursi becomes a Gus Dur figure, as the first post-Suharto Indonesian President, Abdur Rahman of the Nahdlatul Ulema, was, an Islamist elected by the people’s enthusiasm, but then became a figure of fun, as Gus Dur did, because he was functionally blind, Mursi’s election shows that there is an Islamic sentiment among people, which will be represented in the elections. However, those are sentiments, and Indonesia, which is the largest Islamic country, is the example the USA hopes both Pakistan and Egypt will follow, by electing a pro-American President, who is a former Army Chief. However, the people all over the Muslim world are learning the lesson that Western democracy may not be transplantable, and it remains to be seen what lesson they do learn.

One of the things being taught in both Egypt and Pakistan nowadays is how far democracy can go. There is presently a disconnect between what democracy promises, and what it actually does. Democracy is not just about electing a President, but about fulfilling the wishes of the people. If those wishes do not conceivably coincide with the wishes of the USA, as they do neither in Egypt or Pakistan, there is a problem, for democracy has been arrogated to itself by the USA.

n    The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as Executive Editor of TheNation.

    Email: maniazi@nation.com.pk