Egypt and Algeria: mutual experiments in failure

Egypt and Algeria: mutual experiments in failure
The Egypt of Abdel Fatah al-Sisi must heed the lessons learned in Algeria in the 1980s and 1990s. It must not repeat them.
4 min read
12 Dec, 2014
Sisi's Egypt is repeating the errors of its ally [AFP]
The Algerian prime minister, Abdelmalek Sellal, has praised "Egypt for restoring its status and power" after a meeting with Egyptian President Abdul Fatah al-Sisi in Cairo.

His statement was an apparent endorsement of Sisi's subjugation of the Egyptian people and his coup against former president Mohamed Morsi. 

Algeria and Egypt have shared close relationships since independence, and suffered the same crises. There are many parallels to be found in both countries' recent histories - parallels that Egypt could perhaps consider as Sisi continues his suppression of his enemies.
When Algeria became independent in 1962, its leaders copied the regime of former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, nationalising land and setting up self-management systems for farms and factories. 
A hiccup in relations were experienced when, in June 1965, Houari Boumediene came to power in a coup. He had his own vision of socialism, and a desire for greater independence from Egyptian control.
Two years later, however, after the Arab defeat against Israel, relations between Egypt and Algeria again improved to such an extent they were described as two faces of the same coin. Algeria joined the Non-Aligned Movement, an international organisation headed by Nasser, and fought on the Egyptian front in the October 1973 war.
Five years later and the then-Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, signed the Camp David Accords of 1978. Algeria saw the agreements as an act of surrender to the Zionist state and a serious retreat from achieving Palestinian and Arab rights.
     Is the Egypt of Sisi not currently repeating the mistakes of the Algerian regime in the 1990s?

The death of Boumediene in 1978 and the assassination of Sadat in 1981 gave the country's new leaders, Chadli Bendjedid and Hosni Mubarak, a chance to improve their ties.

But as Algeria faced economic crisis in the late 1980s and 1990s, many Algerians turned away from the establishment for answers, and voted in Islamist parties in
1990 and 1991 municipal and legislative elections. Not surprisingly, the military regime crushed what it saw as a threat to its power.
In 1992, at the request of the Algerian military command, Mohamed Boudiaf returned from 27 years of exile to renew his country. Boudiaf was one of the founders of the National Liberation Front that led the Algerian War of Independence from 1954 to 1962. However, his answer was to round up members and supporters of the Islamic Salvation Front, igniting the fire of sedition in Algeria, leading to the formation of the Islamic Salvation Army and a civil conflict that ripped at the heart of the country.

What parallels can Egypt draw? Is the Egypt of Sisi not currently repeating the mistakes of the Algerian regime in the 1990s? Didn't the Algerian regime arrest Islamists in the 1990s? Didn't it displace their families? Didn't it pursue students on university campuses? Didn't the regime direct its media machine against them? Did the regime not raise the "either we or they" banner when describing its battle against the ISF? Didn't the then prime minister of Algeria, Redha Malek, say that "panic should be instilled in their ranks"? Isn't Sisi saying the same thing now?

Power must be shared

Algeria's military leaders gradually realised they needed to share power with "moderate" Islamists. This led to the participation of Hamas (the Movement of Society for Peace), which is aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, in the National Transitional Council that was Algeria’s unelected parliament in the 1990s. Hamas was led by Mahfoud Nahnah, and its members held non-sovereign government portfolios. Allowing them to participate in the government initiated moves towards national reconciliation.

In Egypt today, refuses to open the door to any real political participation. Egypt is re-running Algeria's recent history. Some may argue conditions in Egypt are different, but I believe the characteristics of despotism are the same and the results will essentially be the same. 

 Some may argue the Islamist movement in Egypt has distanced itself from violence and is experienced enough to protect itself from any regime attempts to infiltrate it. But who can guarantee violence will not come from other sources?

Relations between the two regimes are good again. The joint higher committee are meeting again, but not to serve the interests of the people in either country. Instead, their aim is to create a unified Arab system characterised by the absence of freedom and democracy.
This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.