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Why Egypt is not Algeria

Posted on Facebook on July 1, 2013

Tahir Square, July 1, 2013 (Photo: Khaled Fahmy)

Immediately after the Egyptian army issued its 48-hour ultimatum to political actors to set down their differences or else the army would initiate its own roadmap, in a thinly disguised threat to Morsi to step down, people started making comparisons with the Algerian army which, back in 1991, stepped in and annulled the results of the parliamentary elections thus preventing the Islamists (FIS) from reaping the results of their electoral victory. Egypt according to this comparison is about to enter in a cycle of violence due to the Muslim Brotherhood’s feeling it has been deeply wronged and denied the opportunity to run the country. I don’t think this comparison holds for the following reasons:

1. Back in 1991, the Algerian government (the FLN) suspended the elections immediately after the first round had showed a clear Islamist victory. The FIS never had a chance of forming a government. In Egypt, the situation is different. The MB did win, occupy the presidency, dominate parliament and form a government. It is their disastrous mismanagement and not a military fiat that caused their downfall. According to reliable opinion polls, Morsi lost half his own die-hard constituency in his first year in office.

2. The Algerian elections were not the result of a revolution the way the Egyptian elections were. This matters a lot since part of the reason of Morsi’s fall from grace is that he and his organization were not attentive enough to the aims of the revolution and in many respects have even betrayed these aims.

3. Egypt’s Islamists have already had their taste of violence. Throughout the 1990s, Egypt’s militant Islamist groups conducted a ferocious military campaign against the Egyptian state (the police, not the army), and ended up failing and their leaders admitted that that was the wrong strategy.

4. Egypt is still in a revolutionary moment (witness yesterday’s huge demonstrations), something that was missing in Algeria in 1991. The revolution, especially the youth, is what prompted the army to issue its declaration. In other words, the army is also cornered and is not acting independently despite all appearances to the contrary. Youth still have the momentum, and everyone else is reacting to them.

This does not mean that there won’t be Egyptian Islamists who would like to revenge a wounded psyche. The sense of victimhood runs very deep in the psychology of the Brotherhood, and the latest events will only exacerbate it. And with the political situation very volatile, with the economy in shambles, and with so many weapons lying around, it is not difficult to imagine violence breaking up. It is also not farfetched for Islamists to use the sectarian card and inflame the situation even more. Some may adopt an Après moi, le deluge mentality just like the feloul have been trying to do for two and a half years. Still, for the reason mentioned above, I don’t think this will lead to a full blown civil war.

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