LETTERS: Egypt needs foreign help if it is not to go the way of Algeria

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Sir: Robert Fisk states that if the Algerian military junta collapses in its war with Islamic militants, Egyptians will be asking, "How soon before their own regime slides into chaos?" ("Islamists promise Algerian elite a bloody Ramadan", 1 February). Recent developments indicate that the Egyptian regime may have already embarked on such a course. The two dreadful blunders that set off the war in Algeria have now become the policy of president Mubarak and his security forces: namely, the targeting of moderate Islamists and the indiscriminate killing and execution of "suspected" civilians.

Everyday, extremists are being "manufactured" in Egypt's torture cells. The destruction of homes, burning of crops and beating of women by the security forces have already alienated most of the countryside in upper Egypt.

Journalists and writers are being detained for the most ridiculous allegations. Adel Hussein, a 65-year-old Islamic thinker with a chronic heart condition, was arrested last December, stripped and mistreated because the police "found inflammatory leaflets on his plane seat" one hour after he left Cairo airport. Last week, 30 members of the Muslim Brothers were detained on charges of "sedition".

The banned Muslim Brothers is the most moderate and popular of Egypt's opposition movements. Most of its members and supporters are intellectuals, doctors, engineers, journalists and students. Its quick action to provide help to the injured and bereaved following Cairo's earthquake two years ago infuriated the Egyptian authorities.

It is highly unlikely that the moderates will be provoked into violence by the government's repressive tactics. The danger always comes from the frustration of the poor and uneducated, who see no trusted figure for guidance because all those who preach non-violence are either detained or denied access to the media.

If Egypt, the largest Arab country, slides into an Algerian-style war, the repercussions in the whole region will be appalling. As in Algeria, dialogue leading ultimately to free and democratic elections appears to be the only way out of this mess. Dictators, however, do not listen to reason. A balanced combination of outside political pressure and media exposure could force them to compromise.

Yours faithfully, Salah Ezz Oxford 4 February

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