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Stealing Rebels' Thunder

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Last month's declaration by the Egyptian Islamists to stop their campaign of violence against the government is an important step toward ending civil violence in Egypt. It is a step endorsed by Islamist spiritual leader Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman.

While much of the government campaign against the Islamists was brutal, it would be erroneous to conclude simply that brutality works.

The Islamist rebellion grew steadily starting in 1992, but began a decline in 1995 when the government refocused its strategy of development and education from the capital and a few northern cities to the Islamists' power base - poor southern Egypt.

Previously, the Islamists' schools and clinics in the south were the primary sources of education and medical care, winning respect even from people who didn't share the Islamists' political agenda.

By showing it is willing and able to do more for the people than the Islamists can do - like president Hosni Mubarak's costly new Toshka valley project that has attracted poor farmers away from the overcrowded Nile valley - the government undermined the cause of the Islamists who used the dire conditions of country people to recruit members and indoctrinate them into their cells.

Another factor in reducing Islamist influence is the educational campaign supported by first lady Suzanne Mubarak.

Books were so expensive and libraries so poorly stocked that reading was the pastime of the upper middle classes. Poor but intelligent youngsters had little exposure to new ideas other than through Islamist proselytizing and Western pop culture.

Mrs. Mubarak's "Reading for All" project puts books in the hands of Egyptian youngsters at an affordable price.

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