Algeria and Egypt Crack Down on Islamic Militants Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

During the early 1990’s, the North African nations of Algeria and Egypt both saw the rise of radical political activists, who called for the replacement of the countries’ secular governments with Islamic states. Both countries responded by trying to suppress Islamic parties; the resulting wars led to violations of human rights by both governments and their Islamist opponents.

Summary of Event

Although there are many differences between Algeria and Egypt, the two nations share number of similarities relevant to human rights issues. Both have governments closely associated with their militaries, and both have been troubled by conflicts between their governments and Islamic militants. Until 1952, Egypt was a monarchy that had been dominated by the British. In that year, a group of army officers known as the Free Officers’ Movement took power from King Farouk I. In 1956, Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser achieved sole leadership of the country, and in 1957, Egypt became a one-party state. The two Egyptian presidents who followed Nasser, Anwar el-Sadat and Hosnī Mubārak, rose within the power structure established by Nasser and relied on the support of the military. Muslims;Egypt Egypt;human rights abuses Algeria;human rights abuses Human rights abuses;Egypt Human rights abuses;Algeria [kw]Algeria and Egypt Crack Down on Islamic Militants (1990’s) [kw]Egypt Crack Down on Islamic Militants, Algeria and (1990’s) [kw]Crack Down on Islamic Militants, Algeria and Egypt (1990’s) [kw]Islamic Militants, Algeria and Egypt Crack Down on (1990’s) [kw]Militants, Algeria and Egypt Crack Down on Islamic (1990’s) Muslims;Algeria Muslims;Egypt Egypt;human rights abuses Algeria;human rights abuses Human rights abuses;Egypt Human rights abuses;Algeria [g]Africa;1990’s: Algeria and Egypt Crack Down on Islamic Militants[07520] [g]Middle East;1990’s: Algeria and Egypt Crack Down on Islamic Militants[07520] [g]Egypt;1990’s: Algeria and Egypt Crack Down on Islamic Militants[07520] [g]Algeria;1990’s: Algeria and Egypt Crack Down on Islamic Militants[07520] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1990’s: Algeria and Egypt Crack Down on Islamic Militants[07520] [c]Government and politics;1990’s: Algeria and Egypt Crack Down on Islamic Militants[07520] [c]Human rights;1990’s: Algeria and Egypt Crack Down on Islamic Militants[07520] Mubārak, Hosnī Bendjedid, Chadli Belhadj, Ali Rahman, Omar Abdel

Although Egypt liberalized under Sadat and allowed the establishment of multiple political parties in 1976, the rise of antidemocratic Islamic radicals and the assassination of President Sadat by some of those radicals in 1981 led to mass arrests and imprisonments under a new emergency law that restricted basic human rights and enabled the government to seize and detain anyone suspected of subversion. Although the 1981 law was limited to three years, it was consistently extended for additional three-year periods throughout the twentieth century. Following a 1995 attempt to assassinate President Mubārak, government efforts to suppress Islamic organizations intensified.

Algeria was a French colony that began a war of independence in 1954 under the leadership of the National Liberation Front National Liberation Front (Algeria) (known in French as the Front de Libération Nationale, or FLN) and finally achieved independence in 1962. Under President Ahmed Ben Bella, Ben Bella, Ahmed the FLN became the ruling party of Algeria. Although Ben Bella attempted to maintain ties to Islam, the secular character of his government caused some tension with Muslim activists. When Colonel Houari Boumédienne Boumédienne, Houari staged a coup against Ben Bella in 1965, he drew on Islamic resentment against Ben Bella’s regime.

After Boumédienne took control of the FLN government, he attempted to appeal to Muslim sympathies through publicity campaigns emphasizing Islamic values and morals. At the same time, Boumédienne suppressed Islamic challengers to his regime. After Boumédienne’s death in 1978, he was succeeded as president by Colonel Chadli Bendjedid. Islamic activism increased steadily during Bendjedid’s time in power. After riots, provoked by economic hardship, swept the country in 1988, Bendjedid attempted to soothe popular unrest by liberalizing the country’s political system. As in Egypt, however, liberalization was followed by a rapid increase in radical Islamic activities. In local elections in June, 1990, the Islamic Salvation Front Islamic Salvation Front (Algeria) (in French, Front Islamique du Salut, or FIS), Algeria’s major Islamist party, won widespread victories. One of the leaders of the FIS, Ali Belhadj, declared his intention to turn Algeria into an Islamic state.

Although women made up nearly half the college graduates in Algeria in 1990, the FIS held that the education of women should end and that women should be restricted to their homes. Belhadj also maintained that Arabic should be the only language used in Algeria, despite the fact that French and Berber were widely spoken. From the perspective of liberal democracy, it appeared that the democratic election of FIS candidates could undermine the basic human right of political participation.

Confident of its strength, the FIS called on supporters to rise against the government in the spring of 1991 in order to force Bendjedid to resign and call for early elections. Those opposed to the Muslims, such as the General Union of Algerian Workers, General Union of Algerian Workers began to prepare for fighting, and violent incidents increased in number. When it appeared that the FIS would win again in parliamentary elections in December, 1991, the army staged a coup, forced Bendjedid to resign, and ended the country’s efforts at democracy.

Conflict between government forces and Islamic groups followed the crackdowns in both Egypt and Algeria. In Egypt, the most violent Islamic organization was Gamaat Islamiya (the Islamic Group). Islamic Group (Egypt) Another prominent Egyptian group was the Muslim Brotherhood, Muslim Brotherhood founded in 1928 and often seen as a model for Islamic parties in other Muslim nations. Additional parties included al-Gihad (the holy struggle) and al-Jihad (the struggle).

The military takeover of Algeria and the banning of the Islamic Salvation Front led to a radicalization of Islamic forces in that country. In the period 1993-1995, the Algerian military reportedly murdered many families with connections to the FIS. Under this pressure, the armed wing of the FIS, the Islamic Salvation Army Islamic Salvation Army (Algeria) (in French, Armée Islamique du Salut, or AIS), became independent from the army and much more aggressive. An even more radical organization, the Armed Islamic Group Armed Islamic Group (Algeria) (in French, Groupe Islamique Armé, or GIA), began engaging in massacres of individuals and groups suspected of having connections to the government. Some observers have asserted that atrocities committed by the GIA may actually have been instigated by the Algerian military itself in order to discredit the Islamic organizations. An offshoot of the GIA, the Salafist Group for Call and Combat Salafist Group for Call and Combat (Algeria) (in French, Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et Combat, or GSPC), was born in 1998 among Islamists who believed that the Islamic revolution had to move beyond Algeria into the rest of the world.


The crackdown on Islamic militants by the governments of Egypt and Algeria had four major impacts in the area of human rights. First, the rise of Islamic parties in these and in other countries provided examples of what some political scientists have called the paradox of democracy. In both countries, the Islamic parties had substantial popular support, which meant that in free elections these parties would probably win offices of some power. However, the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria and the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic organizations in Egypt were opposed to many of what are generally considered basic human rights in democratic societies. These parties favored the imposition of sharia, Sharia or Islamic law, in their countries, which would limit the political and social rights of women, limit the religious rights of non-Muslims, and impose legal punishments inconsistent with internationally recognized standards of human rights. The democratic exercise of rights could thus end up undermining those rights. Nasser, Gamal Abdel Sadat, Anwar el- Muslims;Algeria

However, the suppression of the Islamic parties did not simply make them go away. Instead, banned opposition parties began engaging in extensive underground organizing. In Egypt, for example, Islamic radicals who were shut out of electoral politics worked their way into positions of leadership in professional associations and labor unions. They created charities and free clinics that increased support for their cause in poor communities. A second impact of the crackdown, then, was the division of the Egyptian and Algerian societies into two dramatically opposed sides.

The conflict resulting from this division was the third impact of the crackdown; it led to continuing violence from both sides. In Algeria, international observers estimated that more than 150,000 people were killed between 1992 and 2002 by either the Algerian military or Islamic opposition groups. Government security forces and government-backed militias in Algeria regularly tortured and executed suspected opponents. The opposition groups massacred entire villages, frequently mutilating the corpses of their victims. In 1996, the Islamists murdered one of the most popular singers in Algeria, Cheb Aziz. Aziz, Cheb Aziz was only one of several musicians killed by the radicals, who maintained that popular music drew people away from the Qur՚ān, the holy book of Islam.

Although the conflict in Egypt did not reach the extreme violence of Algeria, the Egyptian situation also resulted in fear and loss of life. The Islamic Group, in particular, attacked Egyptian intellectuals, members of the Coptic Christian minority, and government officials. In 1992, members of this organization assassinated noted political commentator Farag Foda. Foda, Farag Two years later, the group tried to kill Naguib Mahfouz, Mahfouz, Naguib a world-renowned Egyptian novelist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Hoping to undermine the government by destroying Egypt’s tourist industry, radical Islamists also targeted foreigners visiting Egypt. In November, 1997, the Islamic Group massacred fifty-eight foreign tourists and four Egyptians at an archaeological site near Luxor.

The division of a society into two opposed sides tends to leave little room for the free expression of opinions or for support for human rights. After the secretary-general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Hafez Abu Saada, Abu Saada, Hafez published a report describing police brutality, he was arrested for accepting foreign funding to publish materials contrary to Egypt’s interests. Although Abu Saada was freed after an international campaign on his behalf, governmental repression continued. In June, 2000, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Ibrahim, Saad Eddin chair of Egypt’s Ibn Khaldoun Center for Development Studies, was arrested on charges almost identical to those brought against Abu Saada.

The fourth impact of the Algerian and Egyptian crackdown on Islamic militants was international. Members of the Islamic underground in both countries established links with radicals in other countries and joined a worldwide network. Egypt’s suppressed Islamic parties, in particular, provided leaders and participants in international terrorism. Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, one of the founding members of the Egyptian Islamic Group, was sentenced to life in prison for taking part in the plot to bomb the World Trade Center in New York City in 1993. The international group al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda[Al Qaeda] led by Saudi Arabian Osama Bin Laden, Bin Laden, Osama formed close ties to both Algerian and Egyptian Islamic groups.

Al-Qaeda became well known to the world in September, 2001, when members of the organization hijacked airplanes and flew them into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, destroying the World Trade Center towers. September 11, 2001, attacks A number of Bin Laden’s top lieutenants came out of the Egyptian Islamist movement. These included Mohammed Atef, Atef, Mohammed a cofounder of al-Qaeda, believed by some to be the one who would replace Bin Laden if he were killed. Ayman al-Zawahri, a former Cairo surgeon, was also a founding member of al-Qaeda and one of its leaders. Saif al-Adel, another Egyptian, was a member of al-Qaeda’s military committee. Algerian Fateh Kamel was reportedly in charge of al-Qaeda operations in North Africa, Spain, and France. The Algerian group GSPC had especially close ties to Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Muslims;Algeria Muslims;Egypt Egypt;human rights abuses Algeria;human rights abuses Human rights abuses;Egypt Human rights abuses;Algeria

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Abdo, Geneive. No God but God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Examines Islamic activism in Egypt, drawing on interviews with Egyptian Muslims. Includes selected bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Martinez, Luis. The Algerian Civil War, 1990-1998. Translated by Jonathan Derrick. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. Presents an interpretive history of the war between Islamic forces and the Algerian military. Includes chronology, map, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sullivan, Denis Joseph, and Sana Abed-Kotob. Islam in Contemporary Egypt: Civil Society vs. the State. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 1999. Study of politics in modern Egypt maintains that Islamic organizations, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, are not opposed to democratic civil society; rather, they are a part of civil society that is being repressed by the government. Includes bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Willis, Michael. The Islamist Challenge in Algeria: A Political History. New York: New York University Press, 1996. Presents a comprehensive study of the role of Islam in contemporary Algerian politics. Particularly informative concerning the period 1990-1996. Includes glossary, bibliography, and index.

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