Is Egypt on the Verge of Civil War? Morsi backs off Emergency Decree

Minister of Defense Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi warned Tuesday that if the country’s turmoil continued, Egypt faced the possibility of a collapse of the state.

The intrepid Ben Wedeman of CNN reports on the ambivalence of the Egyptian police about being ordered by a Muslim Brotherhood president to crack down on protesting youth. He thereby helps explain why Ismailia, Port Said and Suez managed to blithely defy the president’s attempt to impose emergency laws and a curfew.

Wedeman also interviews retired Gen. Sameh Seif al-Yezal, who interprets al-Sisi’s statement as a warning against the country sliding into civil war, which al-Yezal thinks is a real possibility.

Meanwhile, President Muhammad Morsi backed off his decree of emergency law and suspension of civil liberties in the Canal cities of Suez, Port Said, and Ismailia, which have seen vigorous protests against his government since the Jan. 25 two-year anniversary of the beginning of the Egyptian revolution.

Morsi left it to the provincial governors of the three cities to decide whether or how to implement the emergency decree, or whether to cancel it. His spokesman said it was not intended to suspend peaceful protests.

Protesters in the three cities refused to observe the curfew the president put in place on Monday and Tuesday nights, mounting demonstrations and playing soccer in front of government buildings. As Mr. Wedeman reported, the police seem uninterested in intervening.

Although most Egyptians are indignant at being compared to Algeria, it should be a cautionary tale for Dr. Morsi, as it is for Tunisian Muslim leader Rashid Ghanoushi. In 1992-2002, some 150,000 Algerians died in a vicious civil war between secularists and fundamentalists. The same division is emerging in Egypt, and the secular and moderate-religious forces are increasingly rejecting the legitimacy of Morsi’s rule. Two competing claims to sovereignty are what make for a civil war.

Morsi created this polarization by pushing through a fundamentalist-tinged constitution and by forming a Muslim Brotherhood government that excludes his opposition, even though he did not win the presidency by a very large margin. His tendency to issue sweeping decrees and to favor his Muslim Brotherhood cadres has created a fear that he just wants to be a fundamentalist Hosni Mubarak and does not really have the instincts of a democrat.

12 Responses

  1. People who instigate soccer violence should be severely punished. When this violence leads to peoples deaths a
    severe punishment is even more deserved.
    Should these death sentences against the perps be used as an
    excuse to topple Morse? What are the chances that the Muslim Brotherhood would be replaced by an Ally of Hugo Chavez and Raul Castro if it fell?

  2. Where do the Salafists fit in here?
    Does Morsi feel that his hardline actions will be supported by the Salafists, who have gotten @25% of the vote in the past?
    While they have less depth of organization than the MB, they could come to be a force to be reckoned with, but we hear little about them.

    • Salafis caused the trouble by their tinkering with the constitution.

      Now they are slamming Morsi for polarizing the country and offering to mediate between him and the secularists.

  3. The will to violence in Egypt is not what it was in Algeria. It’s a violent state, and long has been. It’s a restless public, and long has been. But you can not underestimate the widespread value placed upon upholding an image of a certain above it all cosmopolitanism — of not being “that kind.” There is a strong domestic current involved in the reasons why Egypt’s recurring confrontations primarily stop at being rocks against birdshot and fireworks against teargas. There’s a wall of self-perception that hasn’t even begun to crumble yet.

  4. Morsi doesn’t face an Algerian-style problem, because altogether unlike the hidebound 1990′s FLN regime in Algeria, Morsi’s government obtained solid electoral support.

    The FIS in Algeria had won overwhelming victories in municipal and regional elections before the violent crackdown by the FLN. The same cannot be said of those currently opposing Morsi in Egypt.

  5. The Algerian disaster of the 1990s following the coup d’etat by a handful of military-intelligence generals is a message-laden event, so I think it deserves extremely careful handling. Is “civil war between secularists and fundamentalists” really an accurate assessment? That phrase implies that the choice was between “seculariss and fundamentalists.”

    Judging from a number of books of which Francalgerie is perhaps the single best, the choice was in fact primarily between democracy and military dictatorship. Yes, there was a religious-secular contest, but my impression is that this contest was distinctly secondary. The war that lasted throughout the 1990s pitted a military-intel cabal against everyone else, if one believes the very detailed Francalgerie account: most religious and most moderate secularists were jumbled together and attacked by a handful of generals, with the violence completely provoked by the military at the start by overthrowing democracy and subsequently still mostly provoked by military pretending to be fundamentalists. This is a completely different picture than the glib “fundamentalists vs. secularists” picture those generals carefully stage-managed for the world. The lessons one would draw from one picture are completely different from the lessons one would draw from the other. These lessons directly inform any discussion of the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, so it is important to put Algeria in the correct context.

    So, which, in your opinion, is closest to an accurate depiction of the Algerian domestic violence of the 1990s?

    • What a bunch of bull crap. Cancelling the results of the election of 1991 and pushing the fundamentalists into radicalization was stupid on the part of the generals. But denying the secular-fundamentalist split in Algerian politics is cloud cuckoo land.

      Were the unveiled women who got attacked for walking in public “democratic” or were they generals?

      • I agree that there was a fundamentalist-secular social divide; I was speaking about civil war. It is my impression that most Muslim activists in Algeria in 1990-1991 wanted a peaceful transition, while most of the rest of the population (e.g., FLN members) wanted a peaceful transition as well (though not defined the same – more of a Hamrouche-style moderate/secular democracy with economic modernization).

        We will never know at this point whether the FIS electoral victory would have led to Turkey-style rule or Taliban-style rule because the generals chose violence, repressing the Hamrouche liberal democrats, the FIS, and the FLN. At least that is my argument. If my argument is true, then it cautions against military intervention overthrowing democracy to stop peaceful Muslim religious participation in elections.

        Of course extremists existed in Algeria. But should attacks on unveiled women (or women who go to abortion clinics) be prevented by provoking civil war and creating a military dictatorship…or by police action?

        Allow me to ask the question differently. Was the split in Algeria primarily secular-religious or primarily moderates vs. violence-prone extremists (a few generals on one side, a few fundamentalists on the other)?

        • The Algerian generals committed worse than a crime, it was a mistake. But FIS didn’t have to begin killing people dressed Western-style in response. And it wasn’t a small number. The generals and the radicalized Muslims managed to polish off about 150,000 people. FIS began with democratic aspirations, and its anger at being blocked is understandable. But they could have done what Nahda and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt did, and continue to struggle with civil tools. If they had, they’d likely be in power today. The difference between an activist and a murderer is a single act of poor judgment. But once you’re a murderer, you’re a murderer.

  6. So is it a good thing that the generals have such a large pecuniary stake in kind of keeping the lianas that bind whatever common polity there is in Egypt together and in reasonably good working order? One wonders if they are wise enough to appreciate their parasitic reality, and adaptable enough to accept that maybe they at least have to make a show of working on stability and legitimacy of a central government that seems to this dilettante to have not so much to do, any more. And the many apparent cleavage planes of that enormous diamond in the rough sure are looking to be feeling the stresses that end in a rupture.

    Of course, over time, assuming the species can accomplish its own survival, “recovery” ensues, as in places like Ireland and Lebanon and others, people get sick and tired of killing each other for tribal reasons, you have a Romeo&Juliet moment, the Cap’ulites make up with the Montajews, and a new climb up to oligarchy and dissolution resumes.

    It’s a lot easier to break stuff than to make stuff, and of course very profitable for the breakers as a general rule.

    What were the justifications for prolonged US, er, UN involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, again? I do remember one in particular: “We broke it, now we have to fix it.” Too bad nations and their fragments are not curios in the china shop, “fixable” with a little Superglue ™…

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