In 1989, an earthquake in Tipasa, just west of Algiers, left thousands of people homeless. Three years later, another shook the densely packed outskirts of Cairo. In both cases, the state's response was no better than it might have been in any developing country with high population concentrations and feeble services. The way was open for well-funded, efficient organisations to step in. The initiative in Algeria was taken by the FIS - the Islamic Salvation Front - and in Egypt by the Muslim Brothers. When the earthquake struck in Tipasa, the FIS had only been in existence for about six months. It arrived on site with its own teams of rescue workers, nurses and doctors, in ambulances carrying the party insignia. It was widely praised for its efforts. The Muslim Brothers in Egypt, too, were widely praised. After years of uncertainty and persecution dating back to the 1950s, the Brothers were on the rise. They had made gains in the professional associations: they controlled the Bar, the hospitals and the guild of engineers. At the time of the earthquake they had already put together a consignment of tents for displaced Muslims in Bosnia. In the event, these were diverted. The dedication and dispatch of the Brothers in the wake of the Cairo earthquake won them an impressive haul of donations (the Mubarak Administration duly froze the bank accounts).
LRB 25 July 2002 | PDF Download