Following the nationwide mass protests against Mursi that led to his ouster, the message coming from the Muslim Brotherhood was one of violence. Last week’s scenes of death, chaos and fires in parts of Egypt were reminiscent of Algeria in 1992, following the suspension of general elections.
Overthrowing the president may have been a valid move, but we need to examine all the elements of the crisis in Algeria to draw comparisons. The suspension of elections in Algeria was preceded by chaos and growing calls to reject the new regime; violence took place after the suspension, and then extremists lost the trust of the Algerian people. Violence failed to fulfill their objectives.
Up until 1988, Algeria had been an isolated country, but it had gradually started opening up its economy. When the late president, Al-Shazli Bin Jadid, tried to take a step back, and called for economic austerity measures due to declining oil prices, people revolted against him. Bin Jadid carried out a project of reforms, adopted a new constitution, ended monopoly rule and allowed elections and freedom of the media. As a result of this new competition, the country entered the chaotic phase, witnessing demonstrations that lasted for over a year.
Dozens of political parties emerged, including the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), which was led the pack going into the elections. Other than statements from its leadership, it was not easy to get to know the new party; most of the leaders had made moderate speeches, like Sheikh Abbasi Madani. Some, like the party’s vice-president, Ali Belhadj, led extremist demonstrations in the squares of Algiers that called for the annulment 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, since it had the motive of derailing the elections and tightening its grip of power.
But a few years later, the army was proven to be innocent. These incidents were the same as the violence on behalf of armed Takfirists carried out 20 years later. In addition to violence, extremists also resorted to excuses and justifications, such as threatening to revoke the constitution, saying that democracy was haram (unlawful) and burning shops. Many did not believe that the FIS was behind these incidents; in the 1980s neither the culture nor institutions in Algeria were ready for the change, especially with the extremists entering the scene. The Islamists showed that it was impossible for them to become moderate as a result of the democratic setup.
Egypt cannot be understood without an analysis of 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 necessary conditions whilst ruling. The Brotherhood in Egypt is a political movement that tries to retain whatever will allow it to win over and rule the country.
Technically, this is proper political work but the extremist voices inside the movement seem to have prevailed. They committed constitutional violations to dominate government, 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 Muslim Brotherhood. Is Egypt undergoing a complete repeat of Algeria? I do not know; each society has its own characteristics. It is most likely Egyptians that are suffering today will be able to come up with their own road map—one that will take them out of the darkness and into the light.