The power of youth in deciding the destiny of the nation is manifested in the revolutions taking place in Algeria and Sudan. It began in both the countries almost simultaneously. These countries were not affected by the ‘Arab Spring’ in 2011. But, the minds of the youth were set for a change.
This was demonstrated in social media in Sudan and Algeria where they circulated the photographs of four prominent leaders. All four of them-Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali , Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak - were deposed during the Arab Spring. Along with them, the photos of Algeria’s Abdelazeez Bouteflika and Sudan’s Omar Al-Bashir were circulated as If they were to be forced to go. The pent up feelings of the youth erupted as protests in both the countries, beckoning a meaningful change.
Of the four countries where new governments were formed as a result of the Arab Spring, only in Tunisia did a meaningful change survive. In 2011, though demonstrations were held in Algiers and Khartoum, their impact was limited. But, this time around, the demonstrators especially the youth and the professionals were more confident with their past experience and lessons from the neighbouring countries. Though he tried to withstand the opposition, sensing the unavoidable situation, finally Bouteflika resigned.
Protests started in both Algeria and Sudan for different reasons. In the constitutional revision held in 2016 in Algeria, the presidential terms were limited to two. Nevertheless, Bouteflika was allowed to contest for the fifth term. After 2013, he has been in the hospital off and on and ailing, unable to govern. He was controlled by his handymen. So, Bouteflika’s candidacy for the fifth term looked humiliating, especially for the youth. Secondly, the members of the administration were indulging in rampant corruption. In 2010, Sonatrach ,the state owned oil and gas company, had to suspend all of its senior management after two of its vice presidents were imprisoned for corruption. In 2013,Algeria’s energy minister Chakib Khalil was accused of accepting bribe from the Italian energy company Enil. Cronyism at the highest levels were known for overbilling for public sector works and services. Economic stagnation, unemployment, and labour unrest fuelled discontent. All this stirred the dissatisfied but ambitious youth to protests. Bouteflika realised, though belatedly, that the army also was not happy about the incumbent leadership, especially with his proposal to contest for the fifth term. The Army took cognizance of Article 102 of the constitution which lays down that an ailing president has to be replaced by his deputy and the election should be conducted within ninety days. Finally, Abdulkader Bensalah took over the presidency as per the constitution, and he is bound to conduct the election within ninety days.
In Sudan, the military had to intervene to depose Omar al Bashir . The interesting fact is that Omar al Bashir was ousted in the same way as he overthrew his predecessor, the democratically elected president Sadiq al Mahdi in 1989. It was known as ‘the salvation revolt’ that tempted the people with great expectations. Even the ‘Brotherhood’ movement, it is believed, supported it. But Bashir could not fulfil his promises and unfortunately, under him a referendum was held for the separation of the South. Consequently, Sudan was transformed into a poor country, losing one-third of its land and 75 percent of its oil wealth which lay largely the south. The protest in Sudan whether or not affiliated to political lineage, began from diverse groups. It began in December 2018 in the northern city of Atbara in River Nile State, a strong-hold of Bashir. The protest was an outburst of high school students who found the price of the bread tripled. Soon, people from different areas joined the group. The Sudanese professional organizations, trade unions and even young women activists- all joined. The photograph of Alaa Saleh, chanting while standing on the top of a car inspired the youth. When the protest first erupted, the Sudanese government tried to accuse the university students of siding with the rebel groups who are alleged to support Israel. This attempt to deflect the popular attention however failed.
The protesters both in Sudan and Algeria were wary of the promises by the Army. The protest continued in both the countries after the resignation of Bouteflika and the deposition of Omar al Bashir. People are still cautious while the military is watching on the sidelines as it may capitalise on the mass protests and widen their political influence. They have in their memory a bleak experience of Egypt where the Army brushed off the veteran leader Hosni Mubarak, but later after two years General Abdel Fatah Al Sisi deposed Egypt’s first freely elected president Mohammed Mursi. The leader of the ‘Council of Freedom and Liberty’, Omar al Dakkeer who has been leading the protest since December 2018, states that this struggle in Sudan would be continued till power is completely handed over to the civilian government. The dictatorial fiat of Omar al Bashir to suppress the movement by occupying the street was not carried out by the military.
Promulgation of emergency provisions by the Army is an ill omen. People fear that it may use its iron fist to suppress the freedom movement at any cost. Any way, Defence Minister Awadh Ahmed bin Auf was forced to step down since the protesters rejected him as he was very close to Omar Bashir. Finding the unyielding stance of the Movement for Freedom and Liberty, the Army seems to take more amiable steps. Major General Abdul Fatah Al Burhan, the chairman of the Transitional Military Council (TMC) has assured the protesters that power will be handed over to the people immediately after the election. On 27th April, consultations were held between the TMC members and the delegates from the Coalition of Freedom and Liberty. The press release says that they were discussing the proposals put forward by the political leaders in the previous meeting held on 24th April and were waiting for the formation of a representative committee to chalk out the details of transferring the rule to the civilians after the election. Sadiq al Mahdi who was in exile is now in Sudan. He advises the youth to be vigilant in order to safeguard the interests of the people and to protect the state from the manipulation of the Army.
In Algeria, people realised that the removal of the president does not constitute a regime change. Fortunately, the Army chief Ahmed Kayad Saleh was very committed to sticking to the constitution. Though Bouteflika retreated from his contest for the fifth term and resigned, the protesters continued their vigilance with unprecedented determination. Taking lessons from the experience of Egypt , the activists did not hasten to make any deal with the Army that would have enabled the military to manipulate the situations. They raise slogans calling on the Army not to intervene in politics. The activists have drawn an integrated map and made the Army part of it, but did not allow the Army to draw a map of their own for the post-Bouteflika period. Thirdly, Algeria is most cautious to ward off interference from the western capitals especially from Washington, London and Paris. They knew these countries back the democratic changes only when it suit their short-term interests and finally they ally with the dictators at the expense of the people. The world knows that these countries have not uttered a single word against the arrest of Mohammed Mursi. So, the activists and the Army have acted together in Algeria, responsibly with out shedding a drop of blood.