Is Egypt on the brink of civil war?

The turmoil engulfing Egypt is similar to the events which led to the bloody conflict in Algeria twenty years ago.

July 9, 2013 06:14
2 minute read.
An Egyptian supporter of Mohamed Morsi

An Egyptian supporter of Mohamed Morsi 370. (photo credit: Reuters)


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The Algerian civil war began when the military decided to step in and stop the second round of elections from taking place in January 1992.

The Islamic party – the Islamic Salvation Front – on the verge of an election victory after winning the first round of elections, was prevented from taking power democratically and resorted to an armed struggle to gain the power which it felt it deserved. The resulting civil war claimed the lives of around 200,000 of people.

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The Islamist guerrillas, based in the mountains, started by attacking the state’s security forces, but soon also targeted civilians. Today’s al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is a jihadist group with roots going back to the conflict in Algeria.

Sounds kind of like what may be happening in Egypt.

In Egypt, we also have an Islamic party – the Muslim Brotherhood – that feel that they were cheated from their democratic legitimacy. Subsequent protests and street violence have led to the deaths of many Islamists and others.

Instead of basing themselves in the mountains, it seems that the Islamists in Egypt will base themselves in Sinai, which is outside the control of the state and already a hotbed for jihadist activity, some of which comes from Gaza.

The latest terrorist attack launched from Sinai on Sunday may become more common and it is possible that some of the more radical Brotherhood members may also decide to throw their hat in with the al-Qaida linked jihadists.

In two separate attacks by armed assailants on Sunday evening in El-Arish in northern Sinai, one soldier was killed and a police officer wounded, according to security sources.

Further demonstrating that things could be headed in this direction, the Muslim Brotherhood on Monday said the head of the army, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, wanted to bring a war to Egypt similar to that being waged in Syria.

Meanwhile, Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown, is set to begin Wednesday and this may come just in time for Islamists. Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official, wrote in Commentary Monday that Egyptian authorities will face additional challenges because of the holiday.

First, the late-night festivities may become politicized, leading to “some middle-of-the-night clashes.”

Second, Islamists will step in to feed those who are short of food. This good will may be able to be translated into more protesters in the street.

And third, many Muslims who generally do not go to the mosque too often, may end up in one of the Islamist dominated mosques, further influencing them.

Hence, the chaotic situation in Egypt, and in particular Sinai, along with Islamist grievances against the army, coinciding just in time for Ramadan, may lead to a more explosive situation.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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