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.
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 grim.
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.
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 two?
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.
Father Raymond J. de Souza. "The coming Egyptian civil war." National Post, (Canada) June 21, 2012.
Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.
Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.
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