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:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 27, 2017
Anthony DiMaggio
Media Ban! Making Sense of the War Between Trump and the Press
Dave Lindorff
Resume Inflation at the NSC: Lt. General McMaster’s Silver Star Was Essentially Earned for Target Practice
Conn Hallinan
Is Trump Moderating US Foreign Policy? Hardly
Norman Pollack
Political Castration of State: Militarization of Government
Kenneth Surin
Inside Dharavi, a Mumbai Slum
Lawrence Davidson
Truth vs. Trump
Binoy Kampmark
The Extradition Saga of Kim Dotcom
Robert Fisk
Why a Victory Over ISIS in Mosul Might Spell Defeat in Deir Ezzor
David Swanson
Open Guantanamo!
Ted Rall
The Republicans May Impeach Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Why Should Trump―or Anyone―Be Able to Launch a Nuclear War?
Andrew Stewart
Down with Obamacare, Up with Single Payer!
Colin Todhunter
Message to John Beddington and the Oxford Martin Commission
David Macaray
UFOs: The Myth That Won’t Die?
Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail