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Is Egypt Heading Down Algeria's Path?

Black smoke billows from a burning car moments after a bomb attack targeted the convoy of Egypt's Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, in Nasr City, Egypt, Sept. 5, 2013 (AP Photo File)
Black smoke billows from a burning car moments after a bomb attack targeted the convoy of Egypt's Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, in Nasr City, Egypt, Sept. 5, 2013 (AP Photo File)
Increasing violence in Egypt is raising fears the country could descend into the type of civil war that wracked Algeria in the 1990s, when a military-backed government cancelled elections won by the Islamist Salvation Front (FIS). The ensuing conflict left an estimated 200,000 people dead and the country politically paralyzed.

In Egypt, even as the military-backed government is pushing ahead with a political roadmap, starting with a constitutional referendum this week, (Jan.14,15) it has cracked down hard on the Muslim Brotherhood, banning the group, designating it as a terrorist organization and jailing thousands of its supporters. While the Brotherhood says it remains committed to non-violence, analysts like Michelle Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace say violence is worsening.

“An Algerian scenario is now a possibility with a very broad campaign of repression against the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters, thousands of its members in prisons, more than a thousand killed and suicide bombings are becoming at least a weekly reality in Egypt.”

Anwar Haddam, a former spokesperson for the FIS draws similarities between Egypt in 2013 and Algeria in 1992.

“In both cases the army was the arbiter and unfortunately resolved the political dispute in its favor against democracy.” Haddam said that crackdown against (FIS) led to violence in Algeria and the ongoing repression against MB could lead to escalating violence in Egypt.

“Such a path might attract some of the more radically inclined members of the Brotherhood, who might view it as their best option in the face of the Egyptian military’s evidently superior capacity for force.” Haddam said.

Khalil al-Anani, a Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington agrees.

“We might witness another insurgency, an Algeria scenario. You might see the emergence of a violent faction in the Brotherhood,” Anani said.

Some observers say what has happened in Egypt since the Arab Spring uprising in 2011 that forced Hosni Mubarak from power supports the emergence of this violent scenario. That includes the weakening of the Egyptian police, the presence of thousands of Islamist militants’ in Sinai and the spread of weapons smuggled across the Libyan border following that country’s uprising.

Haddam argues that the international community in general and the U.S. in particular should learn from the lessons of the Algerian scenario that military intervention in politics never results in a return to democracy.

“In the weeks after the 1991 elections, official Algerian rhetoric was stuffed with promises of a swift and total return to democracy, promises that, two decades on, have yet to be fulfilled.”

Haddam says the U.S. has a crucial role to push Egypt away from the path that Algeria took in the 1990’s.

“The U.S. has enough leverage to influence the military in Egypt to start a serious dialogue to reach a political solution that could lead to stability instead of ongoing crackdown that escalates violence,” Haddam said.

But Dunne doubts that Egypt’s military-backed government will agree to calls from the U.S. and others aimed at political reconciliation. The U.S. she says has limited options, but it should do all it can to ensure Egypt avoids an Algeria scenario.

“The U.S. has got to try to send a strong signal that it wants to be the ally of Egypt, the Egyptian people but it is not approving the direction in which the Egyptian military is taking down the road that promises not only no democracy and a bad human rights situation but also increased instability.”