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Algerian bloodbath haunts Egypt's revolution

July 10, 2013 at 2:59 PM   |   Comments

CAIRO, July 10 (UPI) -- The specter of Algeria's ferocious 10-year civil war in the 1990s between its military and Islamists robbed of a landmark electoral victory hangs over Egypt in the turbulent aftermath of the army's July 3 ouster of democratically elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.

There are, to be sure, significant differences between these two tumultuous events in North Africa's most militarily powerful states.

But there are fears that the seeds of an Algerian-style civil war between Egypt's generals and Islamist hardliners who believe they've been denied power accrued through the ballot box are being sown as the army guns down Muslim Brotherhood protesters in Cairo and other cities.

"Another Islamist electoral experiment is halted in the name of protecting democracy," observed veteran Middle East commentator Roula Khalaf.

"Two decades on, Algeria remains traumatized and autocratic, with neither Islamists nor liberals empowered. Jihadi attacks that blighted the country for so long have yet to be fully tamed."

Analysts have questioned whether Egypt, for centuries the heart of the Arab world with a history and a civilization that go back deep into antiquity, is now moving toward its own civil war as the Muslim Brotherhood calls for "an uprising by the great people of Egypt against those trying to steal their revolution with tanks."

Scores of Morsi supporters from the Brotherhood, the godfather of radical Islamist groups across the Arab world, have been killed by troops during street confrontations since Morsi was forced to step down after just over a year in office.

Islamist websites are full of calls for vengeance against the military for crushing the Brotherhood's election to power after decades of repression, imprisonment and torture by Egypt's military rulers since Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1950s.

Despite the clashes in the streets, there was as yet no sign of a mass uprising as occurred in Algeria and which left an estimated 200,000 dead.

Security has deteriorated sharply in Egypt since the Feb. 11, 2011, overthrow of longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak in a pro-democracy uprising. But, observed the BBC's Middle East editor, Frank Gardner, "compared with Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen there are still relatively few firearms in private hands" in Egypt.

However, neighboring lawless Libya, now a stronghold of al-Qaida, is awash with weapons plundered from the late Moammar Gadhafi's armories during that country's eight-month civil war in 2011.

Many of these weapons have turned up in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula east of the Suez Canal, where jihadists have established another base that abuts the Palestinian Gaza Strip, ruled by the Brotherhood offshoot Hamas.

Hamas operatives reportedly helped Morsi and other senior Islamists jailed by Mubarak to escape from a high-security prison after Mubarak was toppled.

"Egypt has survived worse crisis within living memory: the assassination of its president [Anwar Sadat] by a jihadist cell in 1981 and an Islamist insurgency that killed more than 700 people in the late 1990s ... ," Gardner, who was crippled in Saudi Arabia by Islamist militants a decade ago, noted.

"But given the unhappy confluence of events and trends surfacing in Egypt this week, it would be unwise to ignore the seeds of a potential holy war now being sown ... .

"A combination of a failing economy, zero job prospects and profound political frustration can lead to a dangerous sense of despair," Gardner cautioned. "Fertile ground, then, for those looking to recruit for nefarious purposes."

The Egyptian army is holding Morsi, though he hasn't been formally arrested, but 300 top Brotherhood officials were. In what may have been a gesture to the Brotherhood in the hope of heading off major bloodshed, they were all reportedly released Tuesday.

It's difficult to see that being enough to placate large numbers of Islamists howling for blood. The cycle of repression may just be getting started.

The big difference between Algeria in 1991 and Egypt 2013 is that Algeria's Islamists never got the chance to rule even though they were assured of an electoral victory until the army annulled the balloting, while Morsi was elected in June 2012, but proved to be inept and power-hungry, a dangerous combination, and alienated large numbers of Egyptians.

Whatever the differences, a group of Algerian lawmakers cautioned the Egyptian nation in an open letter a couple of days ago: "Give priority to reason, logic and adopt dialogue. There is no other way."

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