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Algeria 1992 and Egypt 2013: the moral costs

Hicham Yezza - Editor-in-Chief - Ceasefire Magazine.jpg

While there are too many differences between the two historical contexts for us to panic, the parallels are too numerous to ignore. An excerpt from the longer version of this article – for which, see here.

Hicham Yezza
9 July 2013

The key and lasting parallel between the Algerian scenario of 1992 and the Egyptian one in 2013 must be the moral cost of military usurpation of the democratic process.

Cancelling elections, like deposing elected leaders, is a deeply wounding experience for a nation’s sense of collective self, because it seems to reaffirm, however implicitly, that one segment of the population has a higher moral claim to have its vision, aspirations and desires taken seriously than any other.

As such, it fatally undermines the very social contract and national settlement that forms the basis of any cohesive, popular revolution. I am thinking here of the sense of utter alienation felt by many of those who had voted for the FIS, many of them first time voters after 30 years of abstention, who discovered their country’s future was run with only one section of its citizenry - the ‘good’, ‘responsible’, ‘acceptable’ Algeria – in mind.

And we see this today in Egypt: while those who support Morsi’s ouster are routinely portrayed as authentically representative of the Egyptian revolution and popular will, those who oppose it, no matter how numerous, are reflexively described as mere ‘Morsi or MB supporters’.

While many of those supporting the coup claim it was a painful option, the spectacle of air shows over the skies of Cairo and helicopters flying Egyptian flags over Tahrir in celebration can only deepen the sense of anger and betrayal felt by the millions of Egyptians who felt there was nothing to celebrate. (A frontpage headline in Al Ahram on Saturday read: “The Army joins the people’s joyful celebrations with air shows over Tahrir during the ‘Friday of Victory’).

As was the case in Algeria twenty years ago, how Egypt manoeuvres itself out of the current impasse largely depends not on what has already happened but on what is yet to come. In this regard, one cannot but be extremely worried by what has happened in the past few days since Morsi’s ouster.

The military leadership’s decision to close TV stations sympathetic to the Brotherhood, to issue arrest warrants for hundreds of its leaders and militants and to launch a process of prosecuting both Morsi and fellow leaders (for alleged misdeeds that apparently include 'Jan 25 Revolution crimes') is a dark echo of the corrosive vindictiveness that characterised the anti-FIS crackdown of early 1992, with disastrous consequences for all.

Calls for the Muslim Brotherhood to be disbanded and locked out of political life, as the Tamarrod movement has demanded, are dangerous in the extreme, not only because of their impact on the political actors but the message they send to the millions who voted for them. Encouragingly, Morsi‘s last statement before his arrest, calling on Egyptians to “preserve blood and to avoid falling into the swamp of infighting” is at odds with the discourse of the FIS back in 1992 -  which urged the people to rise up against the government.

Though the prospect of civil war in Egypt remains distant, the Algerian scenario is not incomparable (especially in light of Egypt’s relatively more heterogonous religious make-up.) The shooting and killing of dozens of MB protesters early on Monday morning is the sort of dangerous swerve that can prove hard to recover from.

More worrying still is the escalation between supporters of the two camps, a familiar feature of early 90s Algeria, with accusations of treason, murder and being anti-Islam becoming a constant refrain of exchanges across the social media. Unless this “sheep vs infidels” paradigm is actively resisted now – and by all sides - unless the demonization of opponents is publicly exposed as anti-revolutionary, anti-democratic, and anti-Egyptian, the slippery slide towards the irreparable can only accelerate.

 

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Hear from:

Paolo Gerbaudo Sociologist and political theorist, director of the Centre for Digital Culture at King’s College London and author of ‘The Mask and the Flag: Populism and Global Protest’ and ‘The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy’, and of the forthcoming ‘The Great Recoil: Politics After Populism and Pandemic’.

Chantal Mouffe Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at the University of Westminster in London. Her most recent books are ‘Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically’, ‘Podemos. In the Name of the People’ and ‘For a Left Populism’.

Spyros A. Sofos Researcher and research coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and author of ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’, ‘Tormented by History’ and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks'.

Chair: Walid el Houri Researcher, journalist and filmmaker based between Berlin and Beirut. He is partnerships editor at openDemocracy and lead editor of its North Africa, West Asia project.

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