The ongoing protests in Algeria and Sudan show that, despite the mostly negative outcomes of the so-called Arab Spring of 2011, people across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are continuing their fight for freedom from autocracy. The 2019 protests differ from those in 2011 in several respects and may yet end with more promising results. The ensuing question is whether their possible success could pose a threat to the stable monarchies in the region.
In what some are calling a second wave of the Arab Spring, Algeria and Sudan have experienced consistent mass demonstrations in recent months, both resulting in the ouster of long time leaders. That the protests have not yet abated indicates that radical change remains a priority for the people even as authoritarianism continues to prevail across the Arab world.
Popular protests against President Omar al-Bashir’s repressive regime in Sudan began in December 2018 and have continued since. The pressure eventually put an end to al-Bashir’s 30-year rule on April 11, and unseated two of his senior leaders, Defense Minister Awad bin Auf and intelligence chief Salah Gosh. A military council took over the transitional rule of the country, but demonstrators continue to call for a civilian-led transition.
Similarly, in Algeria, mass demonstrations erupted in February 2019 against now-ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s re-election bid to extend his 20-year rule.
Similarly, in Algeria, mass demonstrations erupted in February 2019 against now-ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s re-election bid to extend his 20-year rule. A month and a half later, the ailing president ostensibly bowed to the will of the Algerian people, and ultimately agreed to step down on April 2. Subsequently, the chairman of Algeria’s Constitutional Council, Tayeb Belaiz, temporarily took control of the country, only to resign days later under popular pressure. The Algerian people appear determined to eradicate all traces of Bouteflika’s administration.
The continuing demonstrations in Algeria and Sudan highlight the resolve of a generation suffocating under ossified autocratic governance and yearning for freedom. They have revived the memories of the Arab Spring revolutions that erupted in the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 and have resurrected the dream.
That dream has gained increasing significance over the course of the last seven years as the region’s authoritarian regimes have developed enhanced mechanisms of repression. Brutal coercion has replaced dialogue, and states have largely succeeded in terrorizing their populations into submission.
The Characteristics of the Second Wave
To date, Algerians and Sudanese have been demonstrating peacefully, avoiding the level of violence and bloody confrontation that marred the various Arab Springs. Although fatalities have been recorded in Sudan, the number is far lower than the massive numbers of civilian casualties in 2011.
Protesters in both countries took inspiration from their countries’ revolutionary histories. The events of the resistance against French colonization are immortalized in the Algerian collective memory. Although the now-stagnant FLN party led Algeria to independence in the 1950s and 60s, Algeria’s war for independence has inspired the current wave of rallies reasserting the power of the people in opposition to the party. Despite Bouteflika government’s attempts to instill fear by evoking the bloody events of the Algerian Civil War (also known as the “Black Decade”), a new generation of Algerians rose up nonetheless.
In Sudan, it was the galvanizing, student-driven 1964 October Revolution, which overthrew Ibrahim Abboud’s military regime and ushered in a four-year period of parliamentary democracy, that inspired the new generation of Sudanese protesters.
Moreover, demonstrators in Sudan and Algeria seem to have also learned from the 2011 Arab Springs. The current rallies in Sudan have been led by a non-affiliated and non-ideological independent trade union, the Sudanese Professionals Association. As a result, the marches have been marked by an absence of ideology, which was a critical source of tension in 2011. Despite the protesters’ different political affiliations, diverse ideological beliefs, and different ethnic backgrounds, they have been able to maintain a sense of unity.
The tone of the demonstrations, as reflected in the slogans used, also distinguished them from the 2011 wave of protests. In Sudan and Algeria, protesters were very clear about wanting to bring about long-lasting and transformative political change in their respective countries.
In Sudan, a common slogan was “Bring Down Everything.” In Algeria, protesters started by chanting “No For the Fifth Term,” but after Bouteflika finally resigned, their tone shifted and they started shouting, “They Will All Leave,” alluding to their intent to oust all of Bouteflika’s establishment.
Just as the protest movements in Tunisia and other Arab countries inspired each other in 2011, the fall of Bouteflika also spurred on the Sudanese marches. Protesters in both countries have been using social media to support each other and strengthen their own movements.
Al Jazeera, for example, covered the 2011 revolutions extensively and around the clock.
Regarding the role of the media, Al Jazeera, for example, covered the 2011 revolutions extensively and around the clock. The influence of the Qatari channel was key in the mobilization of protesters and provided an unprecedented platform for hundreds of activists and analysts to express their opinions. This time around, the presence and impact of the media were less obvious.
Furthermore, because of the failure of the 2011 revolution in Syria, the war in Yemen, and the delay of a democratic transition in Libya, as well as the rise and fall of ISIS, international powers have not shown much interest in the uprisings. The disastrous outcomes of the Arab Spring have taught several western countries to exercise more caution before showing their support for political change in the region.
Regional Monarchies Unsettled by Protests
However, while protesters appear to be gradually achieving their goals, anti-revolution Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), are observing these developments with apprehension. Aware of this tension, protesters have called for civilian rule to block interference by Gulf states to establish autocratic military regimes as they did in Egypt with Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi, the country’s first democratically-elected president, in 2013.
Larbi Zitout, former Algerian diplomat and founding member of an Algerian opposition movement, highlighted the Gulf monarchies’ revolution “phobia,” which stems from their belief that the democratization of any system in the region will “bring them down because they exist without a popular base.”
Similarly, although former Tunisian president Mohamed Moncef Marzouki has claimed that the UAE is using money to foil the revolutions, it does not seem to have dampened people’s spirits or curbed their renewed wave of protests.
The Gulf states’ biggest concern remains the preservation of their power. In 2011, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) invited Morocco and Jordan to join the Saudi-led bloc to protect the existence of kingdoms in the Arab world and counter the threat of popular dissent. Both Morocco and Jordan, which responded to mass protests with constitutional reforms, did not move forward with the application process for membership. Later, both monarchies received $5 billion as an incentive from the GCC to launch socio-economic projects to quell their citizens’ discontent. However, to date, neither Morocco nor Jordan has applied to join “the club.”
Liberty is a basic human right and however long and hard regimes try to deprive their citizens of it, once the desire for it has taken hold in people’s minds, they will find ways to manifest it.
Liberty is a basic human right and however long and hard regimes try to deprive their citizens of it, once the desire for it has taken hold in people’s minds, they will find ways to manifest it. While the enduring and stagnant, but now ousted, leaders of Algeria and Sudan managed to avoid the first wave of protests in 2011. This second wave so far seems to have borne fruit, deposing them completely, to the dismay of the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
It is still too early to tell if the Algerian and Sudanese people will be able to bring about lasting change, but one wonders how long the monarchies of the Arab world are safe from the seemingly unrelenting tide of social change.