Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Compare and Contrast Egypt and Algeria

Developments in Egypt have been compared by some with events in Algeria twenty-two years ago. At that time a budding civilian Islamist government was thwarted in its ascendancy by other, shall we say, less democratic forces. After a period of military rule, the current president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika became the fifth president of Algeria in 1999. Algeria apparently has not adopted term limits. This snip is from Wikipedia.
Following Boumédienne's unexpected death in 1978, Bouteflika was seen as one of the two main candidates to succeed the powerful president. Bouteflika was thought to represent the party's "right wing" that was more open to economic reform and rapprochement with the West. Colonel Mohamed Salah Yahiaoui represented the "boumédiennist" left wing.In the end, the military opted for a compromise candidate, the senior army colonel Chadli Bendjedid. Bouteflika was reassigned the role of Minister of State, but successively lost power as Bendjedid's policies of "de-Boumédiennisation" marginalized the old guard. 
After six years abroad, the army brought him back to the Central Committee of the FLN in 1989, after the country had entered a troubled period of unrest and disorganized attempts at reform, with power-struggles between Bendjedid and a group of army generals paralyzing decision-making. In 1992, the reform process ended abruptly when the army took power and scrapped elections that were about to bring the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front to power. This triggered a civil war that would last throughout the 1990s. During this period, Bouteflika stayed on the sidelines, with little presence in the media and no political role. In January 1994, Bouteflika is said to have refused the Army's proposal to succeed the assassinated president, Mohamed Boudiaf; he claimed later that this was because the army would not grant him full control over the armed forces. Instead, General Liamine Zéroual became President. 
In 1999, Zéroual unexpectedly stepped down and announced early elections. The reasons behind his decision remain unclear, but it is widely claimed that his pro-reconciliation policies towards the Islamist insurgency had incurred the wrath of a hard-line faction in the armed forces; or that some other disagreement with the military, which still dominated politics, lay behind the schism. Bouteflika ran for President as an independent candidate, supported by the military. He was elected with 74% of the votes, according to the official count. All other candidates withdrew from the election immediately prior to the vote, citing fraud concerns. Bouteflika subsequently organized a referendum on his policies to restore peace and security to Algeria (involving amnesties for Islamist guerrillas) and to test his support among his countrymen after the contested election. He won with 81% of the vote, but this figure was also disputed by opponents.
Most Americans haven't a clue how politics is done in other countries. The story of Algeria is not remarkable. And the main goal in Egypt is to get the train back on the tracks as soon as possible with minimal spilling of blood.  My main go-to guy for all things MENA, Sahel and Levantine is Kal, whom I have followed for years. He does the homework, and I get the benefit. This is a Twitter message from Kal this morning.

What Algeria 1992 can, and cannot, teach us about Egypt 2013
By Hicham Mezza 
9 July 2013

This writer argues that comparisons with Algeria are misleading, imperfect at best. 
Setting aside the ongoing debate over whether Morsi’s ouster was a military coup, the parallels with Egypt’s current predicament seem hard to ignore. Indeed, the battle over semantics (Is it a “military intervention”, “a democratic coup”, a “revolutionary act III”?) is itself a familiar echo of the debates among Algerians twenty years ago (still continuing two decades on) over the cancellation of the 1991-2 elections. (Was it a classical coup, constitutional? a Republican revival?) Back then, as seems to be the case in Egypt today, both sides felt the answer was self-evident.
He cites AUC professor Khaled Fahmy's  remarks July 2, "Why Egypt is not Algeria" 
In a piece entitled “Why Egypt is not Algeria“...the Egyptian academic Khalid Fahmy has offered four key reasons why the comparison doesn’t hold worth examining.
  •  First he argues, whereas, “the FIS never had a chance of forming a government” in Algeria, “the MB did win, occupy the presidency, dominate parliament and form a government”. As such, it is the MB’s “disastrous mismanagement and not a military fiat that caused their downfall”.[...]
  • Secondly, Fahmy says, “the Algerian elections were not the result of a revolution the way the Egyptian elections were”.[...]
  • Third, Fahmy argues that, unlike their Algerian counterparts in 1992, “Egypt’s Islamists have already had their taste of violence” and have discovered and accepted, that it was a failed strategy. One hopes he is correct about the prospects for violence in Egypt: but his analysis nonetheless ignores the complex and long history of Islamist movements in Algeria. [...]
  • Finally, Fahmy insists that “Egypt is still in a revolutionary moment … something that was missing in Algeria in 1991”. This, I believe, is the strongest and most compelling of his arguments. 
If anyone is interested, I linked another longer commentary by professor Fahmy in Sunday's post as recommended by Rami Khouri which is worth revisiting. 
The seven deadly sins of the Muslim Brotherhood 
By Khaled Fahmy
July 1

One of the biggest casualties of yesterday’s events in Egypt is US Ambassador, Anne Patterson. For months now, she has been insisting on a slanted reading of the political scene in Egypt, constantly letting the Muslim Brotherhood off the hook (in a bizarre move last week, she even visited Khayrat El-Shater, the strong man of the MB in his personal office), and giving erroneous accounts to John Kerry about the opposition to President Morsi.  [El-Shater is the power behind the throne for the Muslim Brotherhood. This link is to a sketch of the guy I came across last March. JB]

The biggest casualty, however, has to be Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood, who have insisted on a disastrous reading of the political map after the revolution and succeeded in fooling Patterson (and many other western diplomats and journalists) of their delusional views.

The Muslim Brotherhood and their backers, domestically and abroad, stand accused of committing the following seven deadly sins:

1. The idea thatrunning and winning free and fair elections was what the revolution was all about. When Morsi won with52% of the vote, he was convinced that this is a sufficient source of legitimacy and that the revolution, now that it has fulfilled its main objective, is over. People should now go back home and mind their business. This was a disastrous reading of the political situation. People did not take to the streets in Jan-Feb 2011 and risk their lives only to have free and fair elections. And they were not willing to go back home because someone won the presidential elections (no matter who), until they made sure that this individual appeared to be answering their main demands.

2. The second fatal mistake is not to proceed to tackle the security sector, i.e. the police, the intelligence services and the many paramilitary forces lying around. From day one, we (who is ‘we’, the protestors?) insisted the revolution erupted on the 25th of January, Police Day, was not an accident. We (protestors?) insisted that people were frustrated withpolice brutality and abuse, most seriously the endemic use of torture as a means of state policy. We realized how difficult reforming the police would be, but we providedmany concrete proposals of how to do so in a gradual, but serious way. However,the Muslim Brotherhood was adamant on not taking on this important and crucial portfolio. Instead, both the President and the Prime Minister repeatedly praised the police and went as far as to say that the police were to be thanked for their role in the January 25 revolution. As a result, no serious actions were taken to put any of the officers accused of torture on trial. In addition, not a single officer accused of killing more than 800 demonstrators during Jan-Feb 2011 has been found guilty.

3. The third fatal mistake of the MB and Morsi was to go after the press and the judiciary rather than the police. This, most famously, culminated in the catastrophic November Constitutional Decree whereby Morsi thought he could forestall a coup by the constitutional Court by staging his own constitutional coup. According to the interview with Patrick Kingsley in yesterday’s Guardian, Morsi now admits that this move was taken against his own wish and that it had been a mistake. According to an analysis of many opinion polls taken over the past year and published in Magued Othman’s article in yesterday’s al-Shorouk, this was the moment that saw the President’s popularitydiminishing. It has not recovered since.

4. Fourth, , the President and his group constantly accused the opposition of all the problems that had befallen the country since Morsi was elected. Repeatedly, the MB has accused the opposition of being unprincipled and of doing everything possible to thwart the sincere efforts of the president and the cabinet to solve the country’s problems. Blaming the opposition for the disastrous measures taken by the government belies a woeful lack of common sense. The opposition’s role is, well, to oppose. They are not supposed to make things easier for the government. Whereas the government’s job, is to govern. Part of governing is to reach out to the opposition and to try and meet them midway. Conversely,the MB insisted on a winner-takes-all approach and failed to give the opposition credible and meaningful concessions. Invitations to reform dialogs are a farce and are in no way a serious alternative to what the opposition has been calling for: a more inclusive approach to writing the constitution, an even handed electoral law, a staunch defence against all calls to curtail freedom of association and free speech, etc.

5. Fifth, the MB opted to see all opposition as a result of felool machinations. 
["felool" translates as "remnants" but apparently has more subtle connotations than will translate well. JB] Although there are definitely some businessmen, journalists, judges and many police and army officers who are feloul and who are still lurking around, millions of people who have been taking to the streets could not all be said to be in the pay of these corrupt members of the ancient regime. The political map is not simply divided between the new inexperienced regime and the old one still bent on preserving its power and prestige. This is the situation of many countries that have witnessed the birth pangs of transitional democracy. In Egypt, however, things are more complex. In addition to the new regime and the old regime, there is the revolution. The new regime, i.e. the MB and the Salafis (the other winners of the parliamentary elections), were not the ones who had called for this revolution, and many of them joined only in the eleventh hour and only very reluctantly. Yet, they were the ones who ended up winning the elections. This is warranted given the MB’s formidable electoral machine. Nevertheless, insisting to see the people who constantly take to the streets and those who have joined political parties, those who write in newspapers and those who dance in the streets, as felool proved to be a grave error.

6. Sixth, the MB has also shown their true undemocratic colors when they decided to go after the constitutional court, the judiciary, the free press, the NGOs, and to draft a deeply flawed electoral law slanted to their favor. Theoretically, the MB seems to be relying on an ancient and outdated political philosophy whereby the people’s participation in the political system appears to start and finish with the ballot boxes, what Amr Ezzat coined as ‘ballotocracy’. According to this view, arguably based on medieval precedents, the leader, once elected should command total respect and obedience from his (and of course there is no ‘”or her” in this political vision) followers. He is constantly compared to a captain of a ship or a leader of a caravan. If you don’t follow his commands, you run the risk of drowning or perishing in the barren desert. The MB, and strangely Anne Patterson, do not seem to believe that the president’s role is more akin to the CEO of a company or the president of a university who is accountable to a board of directors or to stockholders/board of trustees; who is subject to laws and procedures; and who can be fired and sacked if he does not do his job properly. If this view imbuing total obedience seems generally outdated, it is particularly unsuitable for a revolutionary moment. Not realizing the people cannot be expected to go home and mind their business after casting their votes in the presidential elections is the gravest mistake the Brotherhood/Patterson coalition has committed.

7. Finally, the Muslim Brotherhood has failed to realize that its time is over. This is a secret organization founded in the 1920 to fight the British in Egypt. During their long history, they have suffered draconian measures under Egypt’s many rulers, most seriously under Nasser. Their ideology and their tactics, their rhetoric and their philosophy have all reflected this siege mentality. One would have expected that having come to power as a result of free and fair elections that have, in turn, been the result of an amazing popular revolution, that they adopt a more relaxed, open, inclusive and tolerant attitude. Personally, I think the Brotherhood should have disbanded itself and morphed into political party. Instead, they did form a party but in an avaricious, greedy attitude they not only kept their organization, but also kept its secretive, clandestine structure and mentality. Famously, the president showed his true preference when he addressed the MB cadres and members as “my family and folk”, raising doubts in the minds of millions of Egyptians about his true allegiance. And in a drooling hunger for control, the MB unleashed their cadres onto the institutions of the state in a rabid race to control them, what we have called ‘Ikhwanization’. What is more, this ‘Ikhwanization’ has been going on with no vision, philosophy or aim except to control the hinges of the state. Furthermore, with their old literature making it abundantly clear that this “tamkeen” tactic aims at nothing less that imprinting their vision on the totality of Egyptian society, it is no surprisethat people got scared and rebelled.

I believe the Muslim Brotherhood is dead. It is a very tragic death as it happens paradoxically just when they thought that the future is theirs. Their best days are already behind them. And what makes it even more difficult for them to accept this tragic end is that it was brought about not because of the clever tactics or the insightful leadership of the opposition, as much as it was the result of their own bull-headed, stubborn leadership. That, as my dear friend Sherif Younis said, caused them to win all the battles, but lose the war. This, and the friendly advice that Ms. Patterson has been giving Mr. El-Shater.

No comments:

Post a Comment