These are historic moments of a dawn of new era of hope and progress for the people of Algeria and Sudan. For months now they have been protesting and finally succeeded to overthrow their autocratic leaders – Omer El-Bashir and Abdelaziz Bouteflika within two weeks of each other. The scenes are too familiar as the protesters are even using the same slogans used in 2011 at the start of Arab Spring in Tunisia.
Similarities and Differences
The Arab Spring went dormant for a while, and the authoritarian regimes in the Middle East entertained false hopes that the people have been cowed down by the horrors of Syria’s failed revolution would dissuade others to follow suit. However, the people are having the same grievances from corrupt regimes intent on holding to power infinitely at the expense of people, who suffer from widespread economic and social depravity. These regimes are the worst violators of human rights and consider democracy as their existential threat.
Meanwhile, the revolutionaries have learnt that it is through civil disobedience and boycott they could create popular mobilization for their success. They brought in from rank and file functionaries of the system and organized peaceful nonviolent protests from of all strata of society with different ethnic and religious backgrounds. A majority is composed of the young men and women that are joined in demanding their God-given freedoms and better living conditions.
They have the hindsight of the uprisings in Egypt and Libya and have learned not to be content with symbolic change but genuine reforms and uprooting of major sources of corruption from the society.
Algeria an autonomous province of the Ottoman Empire was colonized by the French around 1830. Algerians fought a long struggle encompassing eight bloody years (1954-1962) to gain their independence on July 3, 1962. Ahmed Ben Bella became first premier and then its president in 1963. However, since the only institution the European colonizers were interested in is military and as a norm it is the military, which rather than confining in barracks takes over governing people. Thus Col. Houari Boumedienne took over in a coup and became president in 1965 and at his death in 1978 Col. Chadli Bendjedid, as the compromise candidate installed by the military council, followed by Mohamed Boudiaf in 1992, who was assassinated by his bodyguard. Liamine Zeroual, a retired army colonel was then selected to become president in 1995.
However, when the National People’s Assembly revoked ban on new political parties in 1989, the Islamic Salvation Front scored a stunning success in Algeria’s first free elections in 1990. Its leader Abassi al-Madani - a philosophy professor called on Bendjedid to dissolve the parliament composed entirely of the National Salvation Front members. The military stepped in again, dissolved the parliament in 1992 and waged a decade-long campaign against various Islamic militants. According to estimates by rights groups up to 150,000 people were killed. And a subsequent March 2005 government-commissioned report said the security forces were responsible for 6,000 civilian disappearances.
In 1999 in an election when all opposition candidates withdrew over concerns about the polls, former foreign minister Abdelaziz Bouteflika was elected president of Algeria. Bouteflika was reelected in April 2004, and in 2009 for a third time, but promised he will not run again. Yet held on to power for the fourth term and wanted to continue being president for the fifth five-year term. At 81 years he is in wheel chair and suffering from bad health. Mass public protests started on February 16, 2019 and he resigned under military pressure on April 2, 2019. The interim president Abdelkadir Besalah had to quit in face of massive rallies, and elections are set for July 4, 2019. However, people continue their demand for a transparent political transition and removal of all figures with a role in the regime.
Sudan was under the joint British-Egyptian rule from 1899 to 1995 and gained independence in 1956. However, In 1958 General Ibrahim Abboud led a military coup against the elected civilian government. Abboud was overthrown in 1969 by Jaafar Numeiry who was deposed after widespread popular unrest by a military council in 1985.
In 1986 a coalition government was formed after elections, with Sadiq al-Mahdi as prime minister. The weak collation did not last long, and was deposed in military coup with Omar al-Bashir as president in 1993.
Back in 1964 when thousands of Sudanese took to streets against Abboud, a young-man who had just graduated from Sorbonne with a Ph.D. in law, stood out with a mission of promoting a political agenda based on Islamic teachings. He was Hassan al-Turabi . During Numeiry’s rule, Turabi was imprisoned for seven long years, but then appointed in the government. After Bashir came into power, many described Turabi as the spiritual godfather of the coup. However in 1999, he fell out with Bashir that led to a bitter confrontation between Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party and his Popular Congress Party. Turabi was imprisoned in the years that followed and his party was suspected of attempting a coup in 2004. Despite this, when Bashir called for dialogue in 2014, he responded positively. At the age of 84, Turabi died on March 6, 2016, was mourned by thousands and remembered as one of the greatest Islamic ideologues of the Muslim world.
Sudan, one of the largest and most diverse states in Africa, has long been beset by conflicts. There was north-south civil war that cost the lives of 1.5 million people, and ultimately resulted in splitting into two countries in July 2011. A conflict in the Western region of Darfur drove two million people from their homes and killed more than 200,000. In May 2006 the Sudan Liberation Movement, the main rebel faction in Darfur signed reconciliation deal with the government allowing a power-sharing administration. The International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant against President Bashir in March 2009 on charges of war crimes in Darfur.
In April 2010 Bashir was re-elected president, and in 2015 for another 5 year term in polls marked by low turn-out and boycotted by most opposition parties. There were food price hikes protests in 2016, and 2018. In February 2019 he declared state of emergency to end weeks of protests against his rule in which about 40 people died. After months of public street protests, Bashir was toppled by military. On April 12, 2019 a day after he was overthrown, Lt. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan replaced Defense Minister Awad Ahmed ibn Auf and sworn in as Chairman of Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military Council that pledged a two-year transition to democracy. However, protesters continue with their demand of immediate handover.
Obviously the Western powers are not against authoritarian regimes in the Muslim countries because they could be easily coopted with their political agenda. Earlier, the American Muslims in open letters warned presidents George W. Bush and Barak H. Obama to change policies towards Muslims in the interest of America and asked their administrations to practice what they preach about democracy and human rights in dealing with these regimes.
Muslim masses are also cognizant of the counter-revolutionary powers in their midst. Such is obvious from Libya, where a renegade general Khalifa Haftar wants to establish his dictatorship and is helped by Egypt’s El Sissi and the regimes in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. UAE has provided the Sudanese military council with a $3 billion credit to support “orderly” transition.
Sensing this, the alliance of Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces called for “million –strong march” to assert their main demand for civilian rule. Hundreds of thousands of protesters joined a sit-in outside the Sudan’s defense ministry to press the ruling military council to hand over power to a civilian administration. The African Union has given the military rulers 60 days to hand over power to a civilian authority or face suspension, after an earlier deadline was missed.