What we are seeing in the Sudan and Algeria are popular uprisings against authoritarian regimes representing deep state alliances with the military that have allowed power-sharing deals to go on for decades at the expense of disenfranchised citizens, political parties and professional unions. The contrasts between the two countries cannot be denied, although the final outcome of what is happening may be different.
The first version of the so-called Arab Spring, which began in 2011, did not end well for most. The most promising, Tunisia, is still struggling to surmount economic challenges that had triggered the uprisings in the first place. The political environment in Tunisia remains shaky and peoples’ discontent with a new political class remains high. But civil society organisations are active and the transition towards full democratic life continues unabated. The country faces domestic as well as regional challenges.
In Egypt, the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s decades-old rule was an event of seismic proportion. But what followed almost wiped all of the revolution’s gains. The Muslim Brotherhood proved to be incapable of sharing power or putting forward genuine solutions to the country’s endemic economic challenges. What followed, a counter-revolution, pushed the country into the unknown. Today a majority of Egyptians support President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi’s painful economic reforms and fight against Islamist militants because they want to avoid the chaos that has broken countries like Libya and Syria.
What had made things worse for the Arab Spring is that the region had entered into the dark and nightmarish phase of fighting a nihilist group, Daesh, whose bloodied hands had spread over Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia to name a few. Daesh and the chaos it created across the region had forced a majority of Arabs to revise their view of the Arab Spring. People opted for security and stability under a central secular force rather than succumb to sectarian wars that almost turned many infected countries into failed states.
Libya continues to suffer from the dramatic fall of strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Nato’s military intervention in that country’s affairs remains a controversial issue until today. No one knows how things would have turned out if that intervention did not happen. But the country has been victimised by tribal competition over territory, power and wealth. It is divided and its institutions have all but collapsed. What we are witnessing today, in the onslaught on Tripoli could either be the penultimate chapter in Libya’s civil war or years of power struggle. One can be sure that Libya’s woes are not over and its instability will continue to rattle the region.
The same goes for Syria and Yemen, where Iranian intervention had unsettled the two countries and created unprecedented humanitarian crises. In both there is an absence of a political vehicle that could deliver a settlement and an end to a bloodbath. In Syria, Russia, Iran and Turkey are jockeying for power at the expense of the Syrian people. The regime remains defiant and unwilling to engage in a national formula to end the war.
Yemen is more complicated as the Al Houthis, backed by Iran, refuse to honour all agreements and benchmarks to restore legitimacy. They are being used as pawns in a ploy that aims to unsettle the Gulf region even if the hefty price is paid by ordinary Yemenis.
Amid this bleak regional picture the events in Algeria and Sudan have surfaced. Both now defunct regimes have failed to learn the lessons of the first Arab Spring; that economic failure will eventually lead to mass protests. Even as people now demand civilian governments, democratic institutions and accountability for decades of authoritarian rule, it is the economy that is the common trigger for all Arab uprisings.
Young Arabs, over 100 million of them, want to have a voice in deciding their future and they want to secure an honourable life where their dignity is preserved. And in a globalised world they want accountability, transparency and rule of law. No economic and social justice will come if these issues are not addressed in time.
The outcome of the events in Sudan and Algeria will tell us if these people’s uprisings have steered clear of the mistakes of the past. One really believes that Arab countries will realise that people’s anger can be avoided if governments embark on slow but genuine economic and political reforms that will deliver what millions of citizens are yearning for.
Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.