The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Ahmed Abdalla on Egyptian Islamists

MERIP Editor Chris Toensing has posted a 1993 article late, lamented Ahmed Abdalla's on the then growing confrontation between Islamists and the state. A reminder of what a great service MERIP is and of Abdalla's scholarship.

It has been 20 years since the Egyptian state first unleashed the Islamists against the left. Today the Islamic upsurge has taken on dimensions far beyond state manipulation. The mid-term confrontation, marked by the assassination of Anwar al-Sadat in 1981, ended in a draw. Now, more than a decade later, the battle rages more fiercely than before. Violence, and not just “Islamic” violence, now characterizes the temperament of this supposedly placid nation. In the general atmosphere of state violence and citizen violence, Islamist terrorists are no strangers. When ordinary citizens rioted in 1992 against the authorities in Edku and Abu Hammad in the Delta (where things are generally calmer than in Upper Egypt), no Islamists were involved. The riot was a spontaneous reaction against police brutality. A similar dynamic almost recurred in Cairo itself, in novelist Naguib Mahfouz’s favorite Gamaliyya district.

The Egyptian state is now paying for its belated action against the Islamists, not to mention its earlier complicity. Deferring confrontation was an instinctual tradeoff, not a carefully thought-out state policy. The government turned a blind eye to grassroots state power. In return, the Islamists did not confront state corruption and inefficiency, especially in Upper Egypt.
Read the rest. While not a card-carrying leftist myself, I've long believed that the demise of the left in the Arab world (and worldwide) is one of the worse things that happened for respect of human rights and democracy in the region. It's not that the left was perfect, but that it was the most serious secular counter-force to religious conservatism that was available.