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Lessons from Algeria: Getting Egypt's revolution back on track

Egyptian political parties need to learn to share power and compromise in order to reclaim their first revolution.

Last Modified: 17 Jul 2013 12:16
Anwar Haddam

Anwar Hddam is the president of the Algerian Movement for Liberty and Social Justice and was elected as a Member of Algerian Parliament in 1991. Haddam has been involved with the Algerian Islamic Reformist Movement for the past forty years.
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Reining in the military should be a top priority for all political parties associated with Egypt's nascent revolutions [AFP]

The recent events in Egypt seem to indicate that the popular uprising of January 25, 2011 may well be short lived, with the spectre of having fifty more years of military rule looming large. This can be prevented if there is a drastic and swift change in the attitude of all major parties involved in their respective approaches to the conflict. They all need to immediately step back from their entrenched positions, have a new look at the crisis and its treatment, and ask themselves what went wrong with the uprising; most importantly, what would it take to get it back on track.

What went wrong with the Egyptian’s January 25th popular uprising?

From my discussions with Egyptian political leaders from various groups, it appears to me that many, in the course of their interaction with the January 25 uprising, have been impacted by their perception of Algeria’s own Arab Spring in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Are Egypt’s recent events truly déjà vu?

There are indeed some similarities between the subsequent events of Algeria’s spring of October 1988 and Egypt’s spring of January 2011, but there are also major differences.

The principal similarity between Algeria in the 1990s and Egypt in 2011 and today, is that, in both, the army was the body that resolved the dispute instead of a democratic process. Indeed in both countries, people, in the aftermath of a popular uprising, were for the first time able to hold fair, free and multiparty elections with the participation of parties from the entire political spectrum.  

In both cases, for the first time, Islamic political parties won the trust of the majority of their respective population to run the affairs of the State. Self-proclaimed democrats and liberals lost the elections and later plotted with the army a coup d’état against the people’s choice and constitutional legality. 

Most western democracies and their allies in the region did not welcome the people’s choice. Not only did they keep silent before military intervention, but they also provided billions of US dollars in support of the putschists and the continuation of military intrusion in politics that both Algeria and Egypt have been suffering from for over 50 years. Twenty years later, the Algeria of today is a clear indication of the failure of a prominent military role in the politics of a nation. 

There are also differences between Algeria’s 1990s and Egypt today, particularly a crucial one which might have been overlooked by today’s Egypt political leaders (both Islamists and their opponents), and which might have led to the current crisis.

In October 1988 Algeria witnessed popular riots calling for political reforms, liberty, and social justice. The late President Chadli was able to convince the "Deciders" (i.e. the military/security establishment in charge of Algeria since independence in 1962) to respond positively to the popular demands. He came up with a new constitution allowing political participation to all Algerians without exclusion.  Based on that, all Algeria’s political parties engaged, not in a regime change, but rather in a reform attempt of the existing political system framework and constitution.

Therefore the Algeria of 1990, contrary to Egypt of today, needed a stable majority to implement reforms it promised in its program in order to lead to a better political system representative of the people’s aspirations in their entirety. All political parties were engaged in a majority/minority political competition logic.

Unfortunately the then majority party, namely the Islamic Front for Salvation, failed to convey this message to other parties. At the same time, minority parties lacked a culture of democracy and rejected the right of majority party to rule.

In Egypt, there are three major parties in conflict, namely the "Freedom and Justice Party", representing the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies, the Tamarrud (rebellion) movement with the "National Salvation Front" and its allies, and the Military institution. All of them seem to have failed to realise that today’s Egypt, in the aftermath of the January 25 popular uprising, is supposed to be engaged not in a reform but rather in regime change. This in turn requires consensual efforts from all parties involved, majority and minorities alike. In this phase, they all need to adopt a genuine culture of seeking and building consensus on the founding principle of a new political system representative of the society in its diversity, far from majority/minority logic, and stable majority rule vs. systematic minority opposition.

What would it take to getEgypt's January 25th popular uprisingback on track?

It is in the national interest of this great Arab-African nation - as well as that of all those that cherish freedom, social justice and dignity - that failure of the Egyptian revolution is not an option. 

In this delicate phase of revolution, all of the above parties in conflict should be required to engage quickly in internal structural reform of their respective institutional goals and vision. They need to put aside, for the moment, their ideological and political differences, and engage in a collective quest for a national consensus on both an inclusive national leadership for the January 25 popular uprising and a national project to establish a new political system that responds to the aspirations of the people.

Such reforms are particularly crucial for they will enable the parties in conflict to engage in a confidence-building process, allowing them to have a substantial and direct dialogue to reach a collective and clear understanding of the crisis and its root causes.  

This is a necessary step toward finding a consensual, realistic, and long lasting solution to the crisis, which will allow all Egyptian political activists without exclusion to work together with confidence, without the intrusion of the military in politics, to put back their January 25 evolution on the right track and achieve its goals.

The laissez-faire policy toward the interruption of the peaceful democratic process in Algeria on January 11, 1992, has without a doubt encouraged the Egyptian military institution carry out the July 3, 2013 military coup d’état. 

The West’s hands-off attitude toward the Algerians’ popular call for political change two decades ago was driven by some genuine fear of the unknown - an Islamic government - but alienated the Western world to a great extent from Muslim populations. This attitude, if not corrected this time in the midst of Egypt’s current events, will continue to feed radical extremist groups with more frustrated youth.

It is time for policy makers around the world to approach Arab populations’ demands for political change with a new mindset, to paraphrase President Obama, by accepting and encouraging efforts aimed at redefining the civilian-military relations in the Arab world, which constitute the major obstacle to political reforms and democratic change.  

There is no doubt that any government needs a military and intelligence apparatus to overcome security challenges and potential threats facing the country. They are crucial in defining national interests, developing effective security policies and strategies, establishing adequate roles and missions for security forces, and elaborating doctrines and operations.

However, it is our belief that championing military institutions is dangerous to a democracy; it may feed abuses and insulates associated agencies from any form of scrutiny and accountability. Military institutions all over the Arab World refuse to serve the policies of the elected government and instead pursue their own objectives, political or economic.

The intrusion of the Army institution in politics is the major obstacle facing democratic change in Egypt and the region. The military/security apparatus should be kept insulated from politics and political parties while serving the state and citizens. The Arab world needs democratic reforms of the military.

Democracy calls for politically neutral, transparent, accountable and yet effective militaries. It is our view that a genuine democratic reform of intelligence involves processes toward establishing an institutional framework whereby democratically elected civilians can control the military and at the same time maximise its potential for effectiveness.

The challenge of getting Egyptian’s January 25 popular uprising back on track is to reach a national consensus between various political actors and the military, and to engage in a process in order to develop and maintain military and intelligence agencies that protect democracy and are democratically accountable.

The Arab Spring should be used to promote the right to a stable and inclusive civilian governing system in the region. The people themselves, not the military, are the real factor for long-term stability, global security, world economic prosperity, and hence, lasting peace. 


Anwar Hddam is the president of the Algerian Movement for Liberty and Social Justice and was elected as a Member of Algerian Parliament in 1991. Haddam has been involved with the Algerian Islamic Reformist Movement for the past forty years, and is one of the pioneers in its participation in politics.  

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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