The author and academic Robert Zaretsky draws some interesting parallels between the crackdown by the Algerian military in the early 1990s on the Islamists and what is happening in Egypt currently. He estimates, here, that Egypt is also heading for a ‘black decade.’
Prima facie, the similarities are there insofar as the Algerian military also portrayed itself as defenders of democracy and caricatured the Islamists as ‘anti-democratic’ and fanatics. The West turned a blind eye to the carnage in Algeria and is ambivalent toward Egypt’s coup.
But there the parallels more or less end. Unlike the Algerian Islamists, Muslim Brotherhood has been around for over eight decades as an underground movement and survived state repression. The Brotherhood is capable of adapting well by taking Protean forms — in the early stages of the Tahrir revolution, Brotherhood secretly worked with the Egyptian military. It is capable of distinguishing between tactic and strategy.
Besides, the Brotherhood is, in a manner of speaking, a conglomeration of small neighbourhood groups dong charity work, which makes it an inseparable part of the downtrodden masses that cannot be clinically uprooted and destroyed.
Then, there is a regional environment in the Middle East today, which was not the case twenty years back. Unlike the Algerian islamists, Brotherhood has extensive network in the Persian Gulf region, Jordan, Syria and so on.
Hamas is an offshoot of the Brotherhood, which makes it a protagonist in the Palestine problem and Arab-israeli conflict. On the contrary, the Algerian islamists were twice removed from the Middle Eastern question.
The Arab Spring is in dire straits, but the demand for change and reform will continue to be heard. The Middle Eastern settlement worked out by the erstwhile colonial powers and the political order that was ushered in following the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire a hundred years ago has unraveled. Therefore, Egypt will remain caught up in the regional turmoil and there isn’t any escape from it. Egypt is not Algeria, it is the throbbing heart of the Arab world — whereas, Algeria is more Mediterranean than ‘Arab’.
The dilemma for Egypt’s junta is going to be that it cannot sustain a no-holds-barred suppression of islamists. A tricky issue already arises as to the role of the Salafist Nour Party, which has enjoyed a measure of covert Saudi backing, and walked the tight rope in the ouster of the Brotherhood government.
Sooner rather than later, Nour will be forced to take a stance on the side of political islam and Egypt’s junta depends critically on the “Gulf billions,” as Reuters put it, here, to survive.
Finally, these are early days and how Egypt reacts to the release of Hosni Mubarak is unclear. The political alignments focusing on the antipathy toward Mohamed Morsi have outlived their utility for all protagonists. Who thought Mohammed ElBaradei’s brief dalliance with the junta would take such a bizarre turn? Suffice to say, the new line-up of political forces in Egypt may throw up surprises.
Posted in Politics.
– August 22, 2013