Father Raymond J. de Souza: The coming Egyptian civil war (NATIONAL POST COMMENT) 06/21/12)
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Hosni Mubarak will soon die — or has died — in his bed, albeit as a
prisoner in hospital rather than at home. Many of his countrymen will
not be so lucky. The military’s seizing of power has set the stage
for bloodshed. The Nile will flow red.
How do we know that? We have seen this before, precisely in other
parts of North Africa. The Algerian civil war is largely forgotten
abroad, but it shouldn’t be. It provides the pattern of how an Arab
spring turns into a murderously hot summer: The military intervenes
to prevent the democratic victory of an Islamist party. It’s déjà
coup all over again.
In the late 1980s, Algeria’s socialist one-party state began a
gradual process of reform and democratization, provoked in part by
economic hardship resulting from falling oil prices. Soon after other
political parties were legalized, Islamist parties flourished,
eventually winning a majority in 1990 local elections.
With the prospect of an Islamist victory, the government cancelled
national elections, sparking a rebellion that in turn led to the
quick imposition of military rule. A brutal civil war followed
between the secular military rulers and the Islamist parties, with
civilian atrocities widespread. In order to prevent an Islamist
state, Algeria sacrificed democracy and many civil liberties besides.
The civil war raged throughout the 1990s, with as many as 200,000
dead in a population of some 25 million people.
Egypt has a population of some 80 million, more than three times
Algeria’s population in the 1990s. Proportionately, could we expect
more than half a million dead in Egypt?
The possibility is there. Perhaps the protesters in the streets will
force the military to back away from its coup d’état. Perhaps the
protesters will gather in large numbers and the military will
massacre them. Perhaps the protesters will prevail, the election
results will be honoured and Egypt will become an Islamist state.
The prospect for violence within Egypt is high in any scenario. The
continuing massacres in Syria have already demonstrated how the Arab
spring can descend into civil war. The prospects for the region are
The idea of civil wars on either side of Israel makes the prospect of
attacks on Israel far more likely. It was not long ago that Egypt was
an Israeli ally (albeit an icy and reluctant one); and a peace treaty
with Syria was being discussed behind the scenes. In a factional war,
the possibility of missile fire from both countries is real.
Should Egypt’s military take sides in a civil war against the Muslim
Brotherhood, what will happen to Egypt’s roughly 10 million
Christians? They have already been subject to terrorist massacres in
times of relative peace. In the context of war, will Islamist fury be
turned against them? One sees ominous signs elsewhere in Africa. In
Nigeria, there have been weekly bombings of Christians by the Boko
Haram Islamist terror group, killing them while at church on Sunday.
If the Muslim Brotherhood were to prevail in Egypt, what would it
mean to have two Islamist states of significant size in the region?
Would a Sunni Islamist state in Egypt, and a Shia Islamist state in
Iran, of roughly equivalent population, further complicate nuclear
proliferation? Is there even the prospect of hostilities between the
The Algerian civil war, coming as it did during the West’s “holiday
from history” between the first Iraq War and 9/11, was largely
ignored. But the blood on Algeria’s streets in the last decade of the
20th century was a harbinger of the rise of Islamism as a shaper of
the 21st century. The Algerian experience, namely that Islamists can
be defeated at the cost of enormous bloodshed and suspension of
democracy and civil liberties, does not offer much hope in the
context of Egypt today, or for the Muslim world as a whole.
The rise of political and militant Islam can be dated to the twin
earthquakes of 1979 — the return of the Ayatollah to Iran in January
and the siege of Mecca by extremists later that same year. In
Algeria, little more than a decade later, the Islamist movement
enjoyed sufficient popular support to win a free election. The same
phenomenon would prevail later in Afghanistan, Gaza and now Egypt. It
has not ended well elsewhere; it will not end well in Egypt.
That is the plight of the Middle East. Democracy brings extremism and
loss of liberty. To fight against that extremism means the suspension
of democracy and loss of liberty. And both paths are headed toward
war. (© 2012 National Post, a division of Postmedia Network Inc.
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