Letter: Egypt will follow its own path to the future

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The Independent Online
Sir: Robert Fisk ('Algeria's past may be Egypt's future,' 21 February) paints an accurate and all too depressing picture of the situation in Egypt.

However, there is a danger that the reader will conclude that Egypt is almost bound to follow the same path as Algeria. Mr Fisk rightly points out some of the main differences between daily life in the two societies, but he makes no mention of other crucial distinctions.

Chief among these is the nature of the Islamist movements themselves. In Algeria the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was - and to a large extent remains - a mass movement which employs the vocabulary of Islam to articulate popular rejection of 30 years of military oligarchy. On being forced underground, this movement spawned scores of armed extremist cells across northern Algeria. In comparison, Egypt's extremist groups such as el- Gamaat el-Islamiya and Jihad are small and able to operate only in certain areas around Assiut; within Upper Egyptian emigre communities in Cairo and other big towns; and among the junior ranks of the armed forces.

A central factor behind the rise of the FIS was the so-called crisis of expectations experienced by the Algerian population in the mid- to late-Eighties. Fuelled by hydrocarbons revenues, Algeria's living standards soared during the Seventies before collapsing after the 1986 oil price crash. Egypt, on the other hand, has never been so fortunate - or unfortunate - to construct its economy on hydrocarbons earnings. Economic crises have come and gone without generating a nationwide Islamic extremist problem.

Furthermore, I would not be alone in refuting Mr Fisk's assertion that Algeria's crisis had 'hardly begun' two years ago. The appalling mess in which that country finds itself can surely be traced back at least to the large Islamist demonstrations of the early Eighties.

Undoubtedly the activities of Algeria's Islamic extremists provide a very real inspiration to their Egyptian confreres. But notwithstanding more attacks like that of Saturday morning on the Cairo-

Aswan train near Assiut - mistakenly given as being near Aswan - and even a wave of isolated gun attacks against foreigners, Algeria's past can never be Egypt's future.

Yours faithfully,

MARTIN STONE

London, SW1

21 February

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