In assessing the likelihood that Islamists will come out on top in Egypt, many focus only on Iran in 1979 as an example. The Post reports today that the White House is looking at Indonesia, the Philippines, and several other countries where popular movements toppled governments. That’s all well and good, but a more instructive case may be what happened in Algeria in 1991.
There, in the wake of massive demonstrations, the government launched a policy of liberalization, culminating in the country’s first-ever multi-party elections. Unsurprisingly, the Islamists won the initial round of voting, and the army, knowing what was coming, canceled them, leading to a bloody civil war. And Algeria is a more developed country than Egypt, with more urbanization and industry and lower birthrates, so the idea that Egypt has any real chance of emerging from this with a stable and viable democratic system seems fanciful.
This may also be why we aren’t hearing breathless enthusiasm about the latest protest marches in Algeria. The Post story on Saturday’s protests in Algiers quoted one Ali Rachedi, former head of the Front of Socialist Forces party: “This demonstration is a success because it’s been 10 years that people haven’t been able to march in Algiers, and there’s a sort of psychological barrier.” Of course, he wouldn’t have been able to march over the past ten years regardless — if it wasn’t the army stopping him, it would have been the (nipped-in-the-bud) Islamic regime. Of course, as I’ve repeatedly asserted, the only route to genuine liberty in the Middle East is through Islamist takeover — the inevitable failure of regimes based on Islam is the only way Muslims will finally come to accept that Islam is a dead end. In that sense, the army takeover in Algeria was a more profound setback for democracy than it seems, because by now, after nearly 20 years of rule by Islamists, Algeria might truly have been ready for something different. As it is, the expected lifting of the state of emergency there isn’t any more likely to lead to a stable democracy there than is Mubarak’s departure in Egypt.