Sunday, July 28, 2013

Egypt's Algeria Narrative

In Algeria in 1991, the Islamist FIS was en route to electoral victory when the military, with western support, cancelled the elections and suppressed the group, leading to a bloody civil war.  This case, far more direct than any which had come before, consolidated a sense among Islamists that they could not achieve their aims through democracy, even though influential Islamists like Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna believed that form of government had the advantage of making leaders answerable to their people.

The deposition of Egypt's Muhammd Morsi and subsequent suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood are fast becoming a new chapter in the Algeria narrative by which Islamists can win democratic victories but not enjoy them.  New violence may result:
But in the wake of the bloody street clashes that took place just outside the sit-in early on Saturday, leaving at least 72 Brotherhood supporters dead and hundreds wounded, another, more embattled language can be heard among the masses gathered around a large outdoor stage. Many Brotherhood members are enraged by the reaction of Christian leaders and the secular elite, who — the Islamists say — seemed to ignore or even endorse the killings while giving full-throated support to calls by Egypt’s defense minister, Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, for a continued crackdown.
As the Brotherhood prepares for the possibility that the sit-in will be forcibly dispersed by the police, and that the organization will be driven underground, it faces a crisis that could shape its identity for years to come. For all its stated commitment to democracy and nonviolence, the Brotherhood’s only reliable partners now are other Islamist groups whose members may be more willing to use violent or radical tactics — partners that would tar the Brotherhood’s identity as a more pragmatic movement with a broader base...
Even the Brotherhood’s own members may prove harder to control after the blood spilled on the weekend. On Saturday, some of the group’s leaders pleaded with young members who were confronting the police and plainclothes assailants to retreat to the relative safety of the sit-in. The leaders were rebuffed, a startling act of insubordination for a group that prides itself on strict hierarchy and iron discipline...
Many Islamists from a variety of factions seem to believe that if the Brotherhood falls, they — and the cause of political Islam here and abroad — will fall with it. 
I simply don't see a good way out of this mess.  The Muslim Brotherhood, elected to manage a transition more than implement a social and cultural agenda, tried to force the latter on a divided public.  That public has in turn largely supported the military's efforts against the group, despite some condemnations of excessive force.  The root problem may be that civil society under Mubarak was all about different elements in society making accommodations with a hegemonic regime rather than negotiating with each other.



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