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The topic of Islamic politics in the context of Egypt and Algeria is a problem that requires an in-depth exploration. Over the last half of the century, Islam has become a focal point of reference to an extensive range of political activities and movements of opposition against the Western ideologies. Despite the commonly accepted view that politics should not be aligned with religion, Islam has been extensively used for the reinforcement of political purposes. For instance, the Muslim Brotherhood (a political party) in Egypt or the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria have based their views on the Islamic ideologies to show their direct relationship to that religion.
The Muslim Brotherhood was established in 1928 by Hasan al-Banna, and since that time, it began gaining momentum from Egyptians who were ideologically committed to reducing inequality and enhancing social responsibility. In 1990, Egypt started becoming a primary example of the dynamic relationship between Islam and society that had a tremendous impact on the process of democratization.
Until the year 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood was an oppositional movement that acted against the former president Mubarak. However, due to the allowance of diverse opinions within the group, the Brotherhood has become more pragmatic and moderate in their views. In 2013, former President Mohamed Morsi (who belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood) did not make decisions without the input of the Brotherhood.
Therefore, to some degree, the Muslim Brotherhood managed to attain political power and become a political entity that has influence the decision-making process. No longer its leaders focus only on promoting the religious agenda because such a strategy will not gain enough votes, so the language of politics that comes from the Muslim Brotherhood suppresses the religious rhetoric to have a wider influence on the Egyptian public.
On the other hand, despite some lenience towards moderate directions, the Muslim Brotherhood still advocates for conservatism by communicating their religious vernacular in a way that will further their political position. Thus, the present message pushed by the Brotherhood is mixed since it simultaneously promotes conservatism while being willing to cooperate with the West and be more moderate.
In Algeria, the unexpected rise of Islamism was surprising for Western societies; however, it was deeply rooted in the community itself. The Islamic Salvation Front stepped into the arena of Algerian politics in the 1980s to compete for power and displace the existing system of government by including under its banner the complete range of Islamist expression ranging from the old to the young, from moderates to militants, and from laymen to clergymen.
Despite the contradictions in the political program, FIS accommodated for the democratic norms of the society. The unity that existed within FIS can be considered somewhat precarious due to its resting on the alliance of different social forces such as college graduates or small merchants.
Conflicts between radical Islamic formations and the government occurred in 1992 with the canceling of elections. During that time, the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS) and Armed Islamic Group (GIA) were responsible for the killings of prominent intellectuals and civilians. However, after an extended period of negotiations, in July 1999, the government announced an amnesty for the members of radical Islamic groups not implicated in the mass killings (although the killings persisted). The popularity of Islamic fundamentalism in the Algerian society was exasperated due to the lack of support to the military elites as well as the unfavorable economic situation.
Therefore, the Algerian society started to have tighter associations with the Islamic ideologies as potential ways to a prosperous future of promise and possibility. Currently, Islam is the dominant religion in Algeria, where the largest majority of people belong to Sunni Muslims. While the popularity of Islamism in politics varies according to circumstances, the government is trying to accommodate the requirements of such organizations as the FIS and build more mosques (e.g. Emir Abdelkader Mosque established in 1994). As to the role of president Bouteflika, when he was first elected in 1999, he did not face much competition from FIS.
Nevertheless, during his victory in the 2009 elections, he managed to conquer the generals and keep FIS from returning in any form. With the next elections due in 2019, it remains to be seen whether Bouteflika would triumph again due to the dissatisfaction of the public with his domestic politics.
It is to be seen whether Islam will continue to prevail in Algeria and Egypt; however, a solid conclusion can be made that in both countries, this religious ideology had a tremendous impact on the political agenda. Whether Islam emerged as a force to fight against colonialism or to withstand the influences from the West, it truly integrated into the lives of the Algerian and Egyptian societies. In both countries, Islam became a force that defined communities’ intentions to break free from the restrictions enforced by the government and establish new rules and regulations that aligned with the religious ideologies of Islam.