The Algerian nightmare chases Egypt

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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Violence was the message of Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt after ousting Mursi and organizing massive nationwide protests against him. The scenes of the dead, the billowing smoke across the country and the chaos all around Egypt during the last week, call to mind events that shook Algeria in 1992 after the suspension of the general elections.

Overthrowing the president might be a righteous move but we need to inspect all the elements of the crisis in Algeria to draw comparisons. Chaos preceded the suspension of elections in Algeria, along with the growing calls to reject the new regime; violence took place after the suspension and then, extremists lost the Algerian public’s trust and violence failed to fulfill their objectives.

Before the chaos

Before that and until 1988, Algeria was an isolated country but it had gradually started opening up its economy. When the late President al-Shazli Bin Jadid tried to step back and called for economic austerity measures due to the declining oil price, people revolted against him. Bin Jadid carried out a reforms project, adopted a new constitution, ended monopoly rule and allowed elections and freedom of media. Because of the competition, the country entered the chaotic phase, witnessing demonstrations that lasted for more than a year.

Will Egypt enter the Algerian tunnel? I do not know, but every society has its own characteristics.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Tens of political parties emerged including the Front of Islamic Salvation (FIS) that was leading the pack. It was not easy to get to know better the new party except from its leaders’ statements; most of the leaders had moderated speeches, like Sheikh Abbasi Madani. Some others like the party’s vice-president Ali Belhadj, led extremist demonstrations in the capital squares calling for the abrogation of the constitution after winning the elections. Violent incidents mounted but no one believed that the FIS was behind them; the army was accused of provoking violence, which was not strange back then because it had the motive to derail the elections and tighten the grip of power.

But a few years later, the army was proved to be innocent because these incidents were the same as the violence by armed Takfirists to be carried out for the next 20 years. In addition to violence, extremists resorted to many excuses, such as, threatening to revoke the constitution, saying that democracy was “haram” (unlawful) and burning shops on religious pretexts. Many did not believe that the FIS was behind these incidents; in the 1980s, Algerian culture and institutions were not ready for the change, especially with the extremists entering the show. The Islamists proved that it was impossible to moderate them in the democratic setup.

Algeria and Turkey

Egypt cannot be understood without analyzing the Algerian and Turkish experiences. In Turkey, an Islamist party is providing a modern Islamic version that can rule and adjust. But the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is closer to the Algerian FIS experience which wanted to win the elections without adhering to the conditions when ruling. The Brotherhood in Egypt is a political movement that tries to retain whatever enables it to win and rule the country.

Technically, this is proper political work but the extremist voices inside the movement seem to prevail. They committed constitutional violations to tighten the grip of power instead of sharing and respecting the authorities’ duties and rights; the presidency or the executive cabinet cannot disregard the judiciary, which was targeted by the MB. Will Egypt enter the Algerian tunnel? I do not know, but every society has its own characteristics. Seemingly, the Egyptians who are suffering today, can sort out their mess and come up with their own roadmap that will take them out of this dark tunnel.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on July 7, 2013.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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