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Politics of Non-Cooperation

April 2011
Politics of Non-Cooperation

Dear PMG:

I’ve always thought Mahatma Gandhi was the world’s greatest politician. So I find it a bit odd that there is very little about politics in this column. I hope you can help me think through what action is best in the current Egyptian situation.

My junior colleague (whom I will call Iqbal) has been based in Cairo for the past several years. We are both part of a global consulting organization. Before the activities in Tahrir Square, Iqbal had no interest in politics. He believed that change would come by working within the system by using his engineering and business skills to solve big problems. One of his major consulting engagements was working in the public sector to advise the government on how to overhaul the textile industry. I write, “was working,” because he has not been doing any consulting for the past month. All his energy has been focused on the revolution.

My worry is that Iqbal is throwing away his career. I’ve been backing him up, but this is not sustainable. Eventually his absence will be noticed, and I will not be able to cover for him. Any ideas about guidance I can give Iqbal?

Dear Friend,

“The nation’s non-cooperation is an invitation to the Government to cooperate with it on its own terms, as is every nation’s right and every good government’s duty.” (M. K. Gandhi)

First of all, thank you for calling attention to what can be perceived as the apolitical inclination of Satyalogue. It is true that this column has not emphasized the big issues of the day, but rather has been more inwardly directed on personal and familial dilemmas. That is perhaps a reflection of the time and place within which this column is written.

Living in the United States in the 21 st century, we can easily lose sight of the sacrifices that people in other nations make to obtain the kind of democratic rights we sometimes take for granted in America. Your friend has made a choice to sacrifice (at least in the short term) his professional commitments and opportunities to make a difference in Egypt’s struggle for a more representative government.

Your colleague’s situation raises a couple of interesting areas of dialogue: Have we Indian Americans become part of “the empire” and thus unwilling to challenge the status quo? (Do consider that Gandhiji was educated in the U.K. and thus defended Britain before non-cooperating with imperial rule.) Also, is there a difference between how the old and the young resist/embrace political change? (Please recall that Gandhiji was only 23 when he landed up in South Africa, where he developed satyagraha as a nonviolent means to protest injustice.) In guiding Iqbal, it may be instructive to quote the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan, who writes, “The old are certain that happiness cannot be found in politics, that life is deeper and more mysterious than that. The young believe that happiness cannot be found without freedom, that freedom cannot be won without a fight, and that the fight is political.”

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