With the ouster of Abdelaziz Bouteflika as the president of Algeria and removal of Omar al-Bashir, as the president of Sudan – some scholars are arguing that the world is about to witness a new phase of change or the “Arab Spring 2.0” that might impact the political stability in the whole Middle East region. On April 2, 2019, months-long public protests forced the exit of president Bouteflika, and on April 11, 2019, Sudan’s president al-Bashir was ousted from power by the military. The fall of longstanding regimes in Algeria and Sudan has generated anxiety among the other authoritarian regimes in the region – fearing how the protests and sudden regime change in two important member countries of “Arab League” would impact the wider Arab-world or the Middle East region.
The original “Arab Spring” was a series of mass level anti-government protests and uprising that first started in Tunisia in December 2010. Later on, the uprising in Tunisia ignited protests against the authoritarian regimes in many Arab countries. Effective use social media platforms and large-scale participation of the youth – with men and women playing equal part was one of the the salient features of original “Arab Spring”. Similarly, in Algeria and in Sudan – youth – both men and women have effectively used social media in spreading the message and motivating people to come out for participating in the protests. Particularly, women have played a pivotal role in bringing the people to the streets. The key role of women protestors in the ouster of Bouteflika and al-Bashir is a massively exciting and stimulating moment which could open a window of opportunity for women to play more active role in the domestic politics of Arab countries. Moreover, youth’s persistent demand for the change of entire political leadership in Algeria and in Sudan might trigger a chain reaction in the neighbouring Arab countries to unleash the “Arab Spring 2.0”. However, this factor could also push the authoritarian regimes of the region; Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Iran – to take more strict or punitive measures against any kind of political protests to ensure that no more leaders would be forced to leave the office.
The original or first “Arab Spring” was met with a heavy-handed response and a massive crackdown against the protests was started in many Arab countries which resulted in the arrests and prisons of large numbers of protestors. After almost a decade, the tendency to suppress the opposition through oppressive means is still a key tool of various authoritarian regimes in the Arab/Middle East countries – whether it is Saudi Arabia showing an intent to reform but contradicting its claims by killing the journalists like Jamal Khashoggi and by arresting women rights activists like Samar Badawi, or Egypt which continues to arrest journalists and civil society activists like Esraa Abdelfattahh or Ibrahim Al-Husseini or Iran which is crushing the opposing voices and protests with the methods of repression.
Nearly a decade after the first “Arab Spring”, a whole new generation is coming of age in the Arab/Middle East countries. With the memories of protests and uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Syria are still fresh in their minds a key question is facing them; will the mass civil society uprising that toppled the oppressive and authoritarian regimes of Bouteflika and al-Bashir inspire this new generation in the Arab/Middle East countries to stage similar popular uprisings against the authoritarian rulers in their own countries? Looking at the chaos and instability in Libya, Syria and Yemen that followed by the Arab Spring, the majority answer to this question might be negative.
Although the people of Algeria and Sudan deserve huge appreciation but the events and happenings in both countries indicate that the regime change has only resulted in the change of faces and there has been no headway made to bring the real democracy. In Algeria, Abdelkadar Bensalah a longtime ally of Bouteflika and the Senate speaker has been brought in to oversee an interim government for 90 days, and in Sudan – Vice President Lieutenant General Awad ibn Auf seized the power with a promise to hold the elections after two years. On Saturday 13 April, bending to public pressure Gen. ibn Auf reversed his decision to head the Sudan military council and named Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan as his successor but the military stated that it will stay in power for two years.
Governments and people in the Arab-world have learned the lessons from the first “Arab Spring” and they are looking at the recent developments through the lens of firstuprising to shape their policy and response. Accordingly, it is more likely that the developments in Algeria and Sudan may not spark a similar kind of chain reaction which was triggered bythe popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt or Libya. A key reason whythe developments in Algeria and Sudan might have less impact in the Middle East region is that the majority of international community which supported the first “Arab Spring” in a misperceived sense of “democratic triumphalism”, is now much more cautious in its response towards the current uprisings. A careful response of international community shows that they have also learned the lessons from the events of Syria, Libya, Yemen and Egypt. Moreover, international community encouraged the uprisings in Egypt and Libya because both countries were important centers of power in the Middle East and North Africa. Historically, Egypt has remained a traditional centre of power in the Middle East and Libya being a leading Arab country and an important member of African Union has remained a regional power in North Africa. Although, the people have forced the regime change in both countries but these changes are controlled or “pacted transitions” which are brokered by the real power holders of both countries therefore the chances for a second phase of Arab uprising are very low.
From an external perspective, key international actors are carefully observing and monitoring the changes and developments caused by the fall of Bouteflika and al-Bashir regimes. France and Italy are concerned that the exit of Bouteflika might generate instability in the whole region of North Africa. A key reason for their anxiety is the fear that a prolonged political instability in Algeria might bring a rise in the “cross-Mediterranean” migration to Europe. The ouster of al-Bashir could engender some instability in “Horn of Africa”. This is true in the sense that Sudan is part of region which is equally important for Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and also for Iran and Israel.
Russia is also keeping a close eye on what is happening Algeria and Sudan as it might have some short-term geopolitical consequences for Moscow which is very keen to develop military and political ties with both countries. In 2006, Russian president Vladimir Putin visited Algeria. During Putin’s visit Russia signed major arms deal with Algeria. In July 2018, Russian ambassador to Algeria revealed that Algeria purchases almost 50 per cent of Russia’s total arms sales to Africa. On March 19, 2019, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed Russia’s concerns over the mass protests in Algeria, declaring the situation as an attempt to undermine the political stability of Algeria. Similarly, on 16 March, 2019, Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia and Special Presidential Envoy for the Middle East and Africa, Mikhail Bogdanov during his visit to Sudan stressed Russia’s confidence in Al-Bashir’s leadership and stated that Russia has strong desire to strengthen its economic, political and military ties with Sudan.
Although the longstanding regimes have been removed from Algeria and Sudan but the situation both countries is still critical and precarious. The protestors are still out in the streets of Algiers and Khartoum fearing that the people in the new administrations are longtime allies of both Bouteflika and al-Bashir. The interim administration in both countries insist that they do not wish to stay in power for long time and the future of the countries will be decided by the people. But at the same, the military leaders of both countries have warned the people that they will not allow anyone to undermine the national security. This shows that the real power is still in the hands of the influential military leadership of both countries and they still holds the key to broke any agreement that will decide the future political setup in Algeria and Sudan.