Can Egypt Actually Avoid a Civil War?

Essay, 2013

16 Pages



In the light of the military intervention to depose the first democratically elected president in Egypt, Muhammad Morsi on July 2, 2013, there had been immediate calls to avoid a downfall to civil war. The analogy of the military coup in Egypt and the Algerian scenario of 1992 has haunted all intellectual and political circles ever since. The fears of an escalation of violence against the army and its supporters from secularists and the Mubarak regime loyalists emerged right away. The recent upsurges of violence are reminiscent of the Algerian Civil War that engulfed the country for a whole decade following the cancellation of the electoral process of 1992. The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) engaged in a wave of guerrilla warfare that plagued the country in what was dubbed “The Red Decade”. The political impasse in Egypt will certainly lead to the insurgency of the Muslim Brotherhood members and fundamentalist Muslims to restore their highjacked legitimacy. The question is whether Egypt will fall prey to radicalism and be involved in a “dirty war” or it will be able to avoid such a calamity.

Keywords: Egypt, Algeria, civil war, democracy, political conflicts, elections, Muslim fundamentalism

Can Egypt Actually Avoid a Civil War? Lessons Learnt From Algeria

The Egyptian army had vociferously intervened to remove the President Mohamed Morsi, yet the first democratically elected president of the country. Effectively, the elections of 2 June, 2012 ushered in a well qualified victory for the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohamed Morsi who replaced the ousted Hosni Mubarak. Westerners and Arab capitals hailed the election of the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohamed Morsi as the first president of Egypt after the fall the Mubarak regime. The removal of ex-President Mubarak who led Egypt for three decades with an iron hand and with the support of the army generals was claimed by a large part of the Egyptian youth who led the revolution. This revolution ushered in free and fair elections that saw an Islamic majority victory in all contests.

In the presidential election of 2012, the country’s division into two factions (Islamo- conservatives against reformists) was palpable and the election came down to a political duel between a man of the Mubarak era Ahmed Shafiq (the last Prime Minister of Hosni Mubarak, former regime strong-man and the military-backed candidate) and the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, the scientific Mohamed Morsi, who notably studied in the United States. With 51.73 percent of the vote, Mohamed Morsi beat Ahmad Shafiq, and headed the first democratically elected government since President Mubarak was forced to resign in February 2011 after a popular revolt. He won the election with (participation amounting to only 45 percent) and inaugurated in June 2012.

Despite conspicuous victories of the Brotherhood in the first parliamentary elections after Mubarak - the Muslim Brotherhood received 44.6 percent of votes, rivaled only by the more radical Salafists, who got 22 5 percent of the vote, The nicknamed Liberal party got only 7.8 percent of the vote – popular revolt discredited them for political bankruptcy. A year later, he was deposed by the army after immense rallies (about a million people) swarmed in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in Egypt. The legitimacy of the president was at the heart of tensions. Opponents mobilized by popular Tamarrod “Rebellion” movement (created in April to demand the departure of Morsi) accused him of concentrating power in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, the party from which he comes, and his reluctance in addressing the legitimate demands that sparked the revolution in 2011. Opponents accused him mainly of his pitiful handling of the economic situation, as well.

As a reaction, hundreds of thousands of supporters of the ousted president also rallied the streets, appealing for a rightly respect of the ballot box and democracy, and demanding his restoration. These protests turned into confrontation between supporters of Mohamed Morsi and the army leading in a few days to dozens deaths and hundreds injured. Protests and violence[1] shook the country and spread like a wildfire. The intervention of the army, in ambush[2] for several months and always ready to play the referee when bewilderment agitates the country, evoked too much criticism inside and outside the country. Fairly predictable, the president’s Islamist supporters have qualified his ouster as a “military coup” and called for mass protests to restore legitimacy. On 5 July, the Egyptian newspaper El Watan (“The Nation”), published what is reportedly the last exchange between the two on Tuesday July 2, shortly before Morsi’s final televised speech,[3] the president declared that he would make it war to see who would prevail in the end.

Other rhetorical admonitions immediately followed from prominent Muslim clergies and politicians. On Tuesday, 2 July, 2013 Sheikh Adel Nasr, a member of the Board of Directors of Salafist Preaching, issued a warning message for the youth of the Islamic movements of not repeating the Algerian scenario. In a press statement he announced that what is looming on the scene now would be a duplicate of the Algerian painful scenario unless they resort to Sharia law, opt for wisdom and avoid fancy, stating that in 1990, “the Islamic Salvation Front got up to 90 percent in the parliamentary elections of Algeria as well as 100 percent in municipal elections,” adding “when the elections were cancelled they took to the streets and were dragged to the armed confrontation”. Nasr added that the result after 23 years was the killing of more than a hundred thousand people, a loss of their cause [preaching], and exclusion from the political scene. Consequently, their popularity receded and they needed to begin from scratch as the military grabbed the power.[4] On 24 July, 2013 Sheikh Alaa Seddik, Secretary of the Construction and Development Party in Sohag, the political arm of the Islamic Group and a member of the supreme body of the party, declared that the Address of Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi, Defense Minister, was a declaration of a civil war in Egypt and an implementation of the U.S. plans to destroy the country internally.[5]

A shallow consideration of the statements issued by such prominent figures of the Brotherhood would lead to the assumption that the escalation of rhetoric of confrontation and armed conflict between the army and the Brotherhood seem inevitable. Could this liberally backed opposition and incitement of the military machine only be the predicament for a new era in political rivalries between the army and Islamists that would lead to an Algeria-like civil war in Egypt? Or should there be an alternative to national reconciliation and peaceful settlement? This is not easy task, however. Although the leaders of the brotherhood issued rhetorical statements about their peaceful rallies, the death toll is rising day after day and violence is escalating at every corner of the country. Warning language against the coup d’état also came from different sources. Still they renewed Nasr’s appeal to young Islamic currents to learn from the Algerian tragedy and not to repeat the same experience and the same fate.

In most newly achieved democracies popular uncertainty and dissatisfaction are only a natural course of action. Mismanagement and bungling are unfortunately the rule, not the exception in transitional democracies; it has been so in many countries yet the military did not step in because of that. It is almost common knowledge that the new government will have to take painful measures, to reorder what had been muddled by the revolution, set up a new agenda, dealing with the legacies of the previous regime (IMF package, subsidies cut, etc.). In a nutshell, reorder the house inside so that Egypt may receive investments again. Social justice will have to wait, regardless of who is in power. Moreover, Egyptian liberals as a whole along with secularists, Mubarak supporters and the few minority religious groups never accepted Morsi from the very beginning, no matter what he did or did not do. They would grasp at the first opportunity to oust him even by illegal means, and they did indeed.

As Egyptians rejected the legitimate ballot results they certainly approved to twist the rules of the game that would open a Pandora’s Box. The military interference with the political process has been premeditated since the departure of Mubarak. Liberals and left- wingers, who mobilized en masse and called for the military junta to intervene, provoked an alarming radicalization, reminiscent of Algeria. The ensuing events starting from June 20, 2012, when Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) announced that results of the presidential electoral campaign would be delayed indefinitely, paved the way for more hindrances for Islamist candidates in elections. This news came six days after SCAF’s dissolution of the Egyptian Parliament. More interestingly, there were insistent calls for bringing down the “Brothers’ rule” that were echoed in Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi’s public statement[6] on 15 July,2012 that the military would not allow “the control of one faction” over Egypt, in a clear warning against the Brotherhood’s dominance of the political arena. These maneuvers, understandably, raised fears among people of a military coup or a bloody renewed revolution. The hysteria continued to spread despite the Muslim Brotherhood’s clear pledges that an Algerian civil war scenario would not crop up in Egypt.

Nonetheless, even after Morsi was swarmed in office, these concerns continued. President Morsi’s decision to reinstate Parliament on July 8, 2012, against the wishes of SCAF, prompted generals to call an emergency meeting and revived predictions of the Algerian scenario in the media. These developments suggested that some military leaders may have been prodding their allies among opinion shapers and friendly media outlets to demise Morsi’s performance in the public eye and promote the image of popular support for a coup d’état against the Brotherhood.

In an unexpected daring gesture, the armed forces commander Gen Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi urged Egyptians to take to the streets to give him a mandate to confront terrorists.[7] The call of the defense minister, echoed widely among the demonstrators of Tahrir Square. The response of many Egyptians, who swarmed all squares, came as a mandate of the people to give him permission to go and take actions. However, many well versed activists and intellectuals (Leftists, Islamists and some liberals who joined in June 30 street protests demanding Mr. Morsi’s ouster) are reticent at the military’s call for mass rallies against “terrorism”, worrying that the ongoing consolidation of power by the armed forces would spoil the experiment of democracy initiated by the country’s 2011 revolution.

The tragic brilliance, with which the military had been handling and of course often maneuvering events since Jan. 28 2011, albeit with relatively minor mishaps, was strikingly forthright, but that does not mean it can fully predict or prevent the worst case scenario. Only with an even tighter security clutch than Mubarak's regime practices would that be possible. The Algerian Islamic insurgency which engulfed the country all along a bloody decade of 1990s was instigated by the 1992 cancellation of the electoral process in which an Islamic party, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), was poised to win. With the army intervention, aspirations for a democratic transition were washed out and trouble started.


[1] Borzou Daragahi and Amina Ashraf, “Nine killed in Egypt clashes”, Financial Times Online, July 23, 2013,< > (July 24,2013).

[2] Hesham Sallam, “Morsy, the Coup and the Revolution: Reading between the Red Lines”, Jadaliyya Online, the Arab Studies Institute, August 15, 2012, < >(July 24, 2013).

[3] See more at: (accessed July 27,2013).

[4] Fatima Al-Jaber Al Hussein Osman, “Daawa Salafia Warns Islamists of a Repeat of the Algerian Scenario”,Almesryoon Online, July 23, 2013,<> (July 23, 2013).

[5] Essayed Alghol, “Construction and Development: Sisi Announced the Civil War in Egypt”, Almesryoon Online, July 24, 2013, <> (accessed July 24, 2013).

[6] See more on Tantawi’s public statement at <> (accessed July 27, 2013).

[7] Borzou Daragahi , “Sisi Calls For Mass Protests In Egypt To Confront ‘Terrorism’”, Financial Times Online , July 24, 2013,< 0144feabdc0.html#axzz2aCT9XQQC (July 25, 2013).

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Can Egypt Actually Avoid a Civil War?
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Egypt, Algeria, civil war, democracy, political conflicts, elections, Muslim fundamentalism
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Abdelkrim Dekhakhena (Author), 2013, Can Egypt Actually Avoid a Civil War?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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