The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

In Translation: A whiff of the Algerian Scenario

In this week’s article selected from the Egyptian press, Islamist thinker Fahmi Howeidy highlights the recent wave of attacks against police and soldiers and condemns the government’s rush to blame the Muslim Brotherhood with scant evidence. The shadow of a wider insurgency against the regime looms large over Egypt, making comparisons with Algeria that recently seemed unthinkable more of a prospect.

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A whiff of the Algerian Scenario

Fahmi Howeidy, al-Shorouk, 16 March 2014

This morning’s news hits us hard, as we learn that six Egyptian soldiers were killed yesterday in a terrorist attack. It is a crime of the type that sends us a message reminding us of what we hoped to forget. Whether Egypt’s campaign of terrorism of the 1990s that targeted top figures or Algeria’s “Black Decade” that took the shape of a struggle between armed groups and the army and the police: each possibility is more miserable than the next. In the “Mostorod” incident that occurred yesterday at dawn, I catch a whiff of the Algerian scenario – which I had previously ruled out. I had based that assessment on distinctions between the Egyptian and Algerian environment, both the political environment and the demographic and geographical character of the countries. But now I think that I was too optimistic and was mistaken in my evaluation, although I still have hope that this distinction prevails and that Egypt’s outcome does not repeat Algeria’s, recalling that the Algerian scenario lasted for ten years and led to around 100,000 deaths.[1]

It is true that the starting points in the two countries bear a resemblance, especially in the role played by the army in each country in aborting the democratic path – with the difference being that the popular support for this was more apparent in Egypt than in Algeria. However, I hope that the end point will be different and that those in power in Egypt have learned the lessons of the Algerian experience. Most importantly, the lesson is that a military/security solution is not enough to end the political conflict. This is what Algeria’s president Abdelaziz Bouteflika realized upon taking power in 1999 when he adopted the policy of “Civil Concord,” which was the first step to achieving civil peace. With this, the period that Algerians call the “Black Decade” came to an end, a period that had plunged the country in a sea of blood and that was interspersed with massacres and crimes so horrendous they turn the hair white.

One of the important differences between Algeria’s and Egypt’s experience is that in Algeria both sides of the conflict were largely distinct. There was an open confrontation between the army that held power and the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS) that had only been founded two years earlier. As a result, it had scattered bases of support rather than disciplined cadres. On the other hand, in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is at the forefront of the opposing side and they have an “alliance” comprising other groups. And whereas the FIS adopted a policy of armed conflict, in their stated positions the Muslim Brotherhood and its alliance have chosen the path of peaceful resistance, consisting of sit-ins and demonstrations. Despite the numerous violent incidents that Egypt has witnessed in the past eight months, it has not yet been proven that the Alliance and with it the Muslim Brotherhood has been behind any of them. Even the largest incident that has occurred so far – the bombing of the Cairo Security Directorate – was claimed by the Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, even though fingers were pointing at the Muslim Brotherhood and this was the pretext for the Cabinet to label the group as a terrorist organization.[1] This decision was a hasty and ill-considered move that rested more on political calculations than on reliable security information.

It is worth noting in this context that 10 minutes after the news of the death of the six soldiers was announced, Egypt’s military spokesman rushed to accuse the Muslim Brotherhood of responsibility for the crime. He did the same thing in the incident from two days ago and made a similar charge just a few minutes after a military bus was fired upon and two passengers were killed.

Despite the report at the time that the ones who opened fired were two masked men riding a motorcycle, the military spokesman hastened to make the exact same accusation, before any investigation took place – as if he alone could identify the masked men. Because the military spokesman represents a respected institution that has weight in society, he should be more careful and balanced, not just to strengthen the credibility of his statements and out of respect for the institutions he represents, but also to enable investigatory bodies to do their job seriously, so that this politicized accusation does not allow the real perpetrators to escape unpunished – whether they are from the Brotherhood or something else.

In facing such monstrous, awful incidents, we need to exercise responsibility and awareness, because getting carried away with emotion prevents us from finding out the truth, and keeps us from considering how to deal with the mounting indicators of violence. In this context, everyone should take note that what happened in Mostorod is not isolated from the crisis that Egypt has been facing since July 3 of last year, a crisis that has seen much bloodshed. Unless the roots of the crisis are dealt with, then its echoes and repercussions will continue, and the procession of shocks and outrages will not cease.

We do not want to keep waiting and we do not want more innocent blood to have to be shed and more destruction to occur before we realize that we need serious action to achieve the “civil concord” that the “road map” called for eight months ago. We have not yet seen serious action on this front, because in the torrent of emotion and the intoxication of zeal, many people have forgotten that it is the nation that must prevail.

  1. Howeidy is factually wrong here, the incident that prompted to the December 25, 2013, labeling of the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization was the bombing of the Daqahliya Security Directorate in Mansoura on 24 December, 2013.  ↩