Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Algeria Redux in Egypt

by DAVID PORTER

Quite tragically, Egypt now seems to be following the same bloody path as Algeria in the 1990s. As I forewarned in an article almost two years ago,i Egypt’s military, like Algeria’s in 1992, has now succeeded in splitting the opposition to the old authoritarian regime, maneuvering the ambitious, self-confident, and most important component of the mass Islamist movement into direct armed confrontation with the police and military and forcing most secular opponents to choose between fleeting hopes for a sustained republican regime or military protection against a potential Islamist theocracy. Among others, longtime Middle East observers Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn recently noted this repeated dynamic between the two countriesii and Algerian commentators have done the same.iii While details obviously differ, the broad patterns are strikingly similar.

In Algeria, a brief liberalization of the press, electoral openings for new political parties and space for newly independent organizations (especially trade unions) from 1989 to 1991 followed important labor strikes, huge street demonstrations and bloody repression in late 1988 Algiers, just as in Cairo in early 2011. In both countries, the period of political liberalization was only a façade to hide temporarily the reality of continuing military control.

In Algeria, an Islamist populist party, the FIS, gained substantial victories in 1990 municipal elections and a first-round landslide in legislative polls in December 1991. At this point, the military stepped in, cancelling the second round and setting up an openly military-dominated regime. Secular competitors with the Islamists then split between those insisting that elections proceed, no matter what, in order to save the young experiment in liberal democracy versus those who opposed that experiment in principle allied with those fearing a triumphalist Islamism that would move toward an authoritarian regime of its own. This division caused bitter recriminations within the Algerian liberal and radical left, just as it does today in Egypt.

Meanwhile, a growing momentum of armed confrontations and state repression, beginning even before the 1991 balloting, escalated dramatically into nearly a decade of full-scale urban and rural guerrilla civil war between the military and Islamist groups, with civilians caught in the crossfire. Up to 200,000 Algerians died in the conflict, with thousands more wounded and disappeared. In addition to village massacres, Islamists assassinated secular women, teachers, professionals and journalists and kidnapped women of various ages for sexual enslavement in rural guerrilla camps. The military, in turn, fearful of strong and persistent Islamist resistance, carried out massacres and widespread prisoner tortures of its own.

While the regime eventually offered truces and amnesty to Islamist guerrillas, providing reintegration into civilian society, a small Islamist minority, now known as Al-Qaeda in the Islamist Maghreb (AQIM), continued hostilities to the present from its remote mountain and desert bases. The military, in turn, has assured its own choice for successive presidential terms as well as its own continued looting of huge petrodollar state income and other sources of lucrative corruption. Though incumbent Abdelaziz Bouteflika seemed likely to be advanced again for a fourth term in 2014, his massive stroke a few months ago no doubt precludes that scenario. Nevertheless, rival factions within the military regime, as before, will surely find a new compromise figure to impose on an increasingly-alienated Algerian electorate, without concern for continually deteriorating conditions of daily life for most or for long-time grassroots demands for political accountability.

Whether Egyptian Islamists can now produce and sustain a strong guerrilla resistance movement in a terrain quite different from that in Algeria is still to be seen. Algerian Islamists had the benefit of remote mountain bases and often local villagers’ support for their actions. Despite great frustrations over the past year, Egypt’s Islamists still no doubt have substantial support among millions of impoverished Egyptians, now radicalized by the military coup. As well, armed Islamist resistance and aggression in other parts of the Arab world, including Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, demonstrate the potential for sustained Islamist guerrilla effectiveness in urban and rural contexts both.

As the military vs. Islamist conflict develops its tragic trajectory in Egypt, secular liberals and radicals who despise both sides will be caught in the middle, as in Algeria, and will surely be left on the sidelines for a long time once the likely guerrilla war has ended.

What began as a “leaderless revolution” in 2011 to depose Mubarak and, as some hoped, the whole ancien régime as the culmination of popular grassroots activism in diverse social contextsiv was coopted by far better organized Islamists and now the Egyptian military. Hopefully, the once-experienced exhilaration of successful direct action and temporarily freer space will sustain the hopes and now more sophisticated organizing energies of large numbers of the younger generation whose courageous determination in 2011 provided such inspiration in the Middle East and North Africa especially, but also throughout the world. In the meantime, it is up to us to work against oppression in our own countries and toward the demise of the terrorizing capitalist world system that encourages both military regimes and authoritarian populisms, theocratic or otherwise, that are seen as a last chance by desperately poor and powerless billions.

David Porter is a SUNY professor emeritus of political science and history and author of a new book, Eyes to the South: French Anarchists and Algeria, to be released in November 2011 by AK Press.

Notes

i David Porter, “The Long Shadow of Algeria,” Counterpunch, 10/27/11.

ii Robert Fisk, “Cairo Massacre: After Today, What Muslim Will Ever Trust the Ballot Box Again?” The Independent, 8/14/13 and Patrick Cockburn, “Egypt on the Brink of A New Dark Age, As the Generals Close In for the Kill,” The Independent, 8/18/13.

iii For example, Farah Souames, “Crise en Egypte: l’avenir incertain ou la pire scénario,” El Watan, 8/18/13; Mohand Bakir, “Egypte: une guerre qui ne nous est pas étrangère,” Le Matin.dz, 8/19/13; and Samir Bouakouir, “Ni Etat policier, ni Etat intégriste,” Le Mati.dz, 8/20/13.

iv David Porter, “On Leaderless Revolutions and the Fall of Mubarak,” Common Dreams, 2/11/11.

David Porter is emeritus professor of political science at SUNY/Empire State College and author of Vision on Fire: Emma Goldman on the Spanish Revolution and Eyes to the South: French Anarchists and Algeria (both AK Press). He can be reached at david.porter@esc.edu.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail