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Thursday, November 20, 1997 Published at 16:00 GMT

World: Analysis

Egypt: the roots of violence
image: [ The indiscriminate killings led to shock and outrage around the world ]
The indiscriminate killings led to shock and outrage around the world

Some of Egypt's militant Islamic groups have repeated their warning that tourists should not visit the country, following the attack in the southern resort of Luxor. But what motivates these groups? And why are they still active, despite a series of government crackdowns? Here is our Middle East analyst, Roger Hardy.

The attack on tourists in Luxor has reminded many of the brutal and indiscriminate killings taking place in Algeria. In both cases, armed and desperate Islamic groups are waging war against essentially secular, Western-backed governments. Human-rights abuses by government and opposition have become routine. And many of the victims are innocent civilians -- and sometimes innocent foreigners, too.

There are important differences, of course, between the two countries. Five years of violence in Egypt have claimed close to 1200 lives. In Algeria the death toll is 50 times that number. But yesterday's attack in Luxor was so shocking that some Egyptians are left wondering whether their country could go the way of Algeria.

On the whole, that seems unlikely.
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Since Islamic groups began their campaign of violence in 1992, the Egyptian state has used an extensive armoury of measures against them. Riding roughshod over legal and democratic norms, the authorities have rounded up tens of thousands of suspected Islamic militants.

Some have been tortured into making confessions -- and then convicted by military courts and either jailed or hanged.

At the political level, the authorities have done their utmost to destroy the influence of a broadly based Islamic movement which has well developed networks of support. The biggest and oldest Islamic group -- the Muslim Brotherhood -- which for several years had been officially tolerated, has been harassed and weakened.

The authorities have also sought to root out Islamist influence from campuses and professional associations, the doctors' and lawyers' and engineers' groups which have often, in the past, been Islamist strongholds.

There has been a certain price to pay for this sustained crackdown. In Egypt, as elsewhere, people have turned to the politics of Islam because they are disenchanted by autocratic and corrupt government, and because they find the mainstream political parties and movements have little to offer.

Such sentiments are still strong. It is certainly true that, over the last five years, many Egyptians have been alienated by Islamist violence. And the slaughter of tourists could well cause a backlash in a country so heavily dependent on tourism.

But despite -- perhaps even because of -- the severity of the official crackdown, a hard core of extremists still exists, and has now advertised its presence in the most spectacular fashion.

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