Why Egypt is not Algeria

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 President Mohamed Morsi to step down, people started making comparisons with the Algerian army. Back in 1991, Algeria’s armed forces stepped in and annulled the results of the parliamentary elections, thus preventing the Islamist Front Islamique du Salut (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 that 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’s Front de Liberation Nationale (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 Muslim Brotherhood 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 behind 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, militant Islamist groups conducted a ferocious military campaign against the Egyptian state (the police, not the army), and ended up failing. Their leaders admitted that that was the wrong strategy.

4. Egypt is still in a revolutionary moment (witness June 30’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 (remnants of the Mubarak regime) have been trying to do for two and a half years. Still, for the reasons mentioned above, I don’t think this will lead to a full-blown civil war.

Khaled Fahmy 

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