Algeria and Sudan: Arab Spring? Again?

Algeria and Sudan: Arab Spring? Again?

History tends to repeat itself, when people do not read it! It is also true that just because a story begins the same way as another, it doesn’t have to end the same.

I understand why Arabs feel apprehensive about events in Sudan and Algeria. The resemblance is just too strong to the revolution of 2011 in neighboring Egypt. Likewise, Egyptians revolted against 60 years of military rule since the coup against King Farouk and his civilian, democratic government. They succeeded in firing President Mubarak who represented the army for 25 years, and his cabinet. The Military Transitional Council took over, for two years, and handed the reign to a democratically elected civilian government for a year. Then the army took back the government in 2013, after proving to the public how wrong it was to be ruled by weak, clueless, quarreling civilians!

In Algeria, the military ruled after independence from French colonization in 1962. Left-leaning officers passed on the reign to each other, within the ruling party. In October 1988, Algerians went to the streets to demand the end of the single-party system and the creation of a real democracy called the “Spring of Algiers”. The demonstrators were repressed by the authorities with more than 300 dead, but the movement constituted a turning point in the political history of modern Algeria. In 1989, a new constitution was adopted that put an end to one-party rule and saw the creation of more than 50 political parties, as well as official freedom of the press, according to Wikipedia.

In the 1992 elections for the Algerian National Assembly, the Islamists won the first round. Fearing an eventual win by the Islamists, the army canceled the election process, setting off a civil war between the army and Islamists that lasted a decade.

In Sudan, the military has ruled for 30 years. Their representative, General Omar Al-Bashir, won multiple elections, like Mubarak, in Egypt, Saleh in Yemen, Bin Ali in Tunis, Assad (father and son) in Damascus and Bouteflika in Algiers. Faces may change, but the deep state remains. Promises are given at every “staged” election, and as a response to economic crises and political unrest, but nothing meaningful ever changes —except for the worse.

In recent months, Algerians and Sudanese revolted against their aging, corrupt, incompetent rulers. Again, the military stepped forward to accommodate public demands. They protected the demonstrators from internal security forces, sacked the government and imprisoned its leaders. Military councils took over, and promised a return to civilian rule within two years. Old faces disappeared, new ones appeared. So far, it seems that history is doing it again! A fresh run of a classic movie?

Not necessarily! Similar beginnings do not guarantee similar ends. Case in point is the last military coup in Sudan. General Abdulrahman Swar Al-Dahab revolted against President Jaafar Nimeiri in 1985. Within a year, he handed over power to a democratically elected, but incumbent government. In 1989, General Omar Al-Bashir, supported by the National Islamic Front, led by Dr. Hassan Al-Turabi, took over the government. It was supposed to be a transitional period, but lasted three decades, until last week.

So, why would the story end differently for Sudan and Algeria, this time? It is too early to tell, but one thing is sure: the people are different! They have learned from past lessons. It shows in their healthy suspicion and specific demands. They have called for solid guarantees from the military transitional councils that their revolutions will not go the “Arab Spring” way. The Muslim Brotherhood and their backers in Washington, Ankara and Doha, who stole former revolutions, have been given the “red card” this round. New young, educated and wise revolutionary leaders are rejecting the Islamists’ attempts to lead, influence and corrupt their revolution. They insist on scholarly civic government institutions and demand that the old guard is out and new technocratic, professional leaders are in.

Hopefully, the new episodes will end well so that we can all live happily ever after. However, is that at all possible in our tragic world? Have the soldiers in the Middle East ever returned to their barracks voluntarily and trusted civilians to run the state? I can count a couple of good cases, such as in Turkey and Tunisia. And there are bad ones, including Algeria and Sudan. My point, however, is that it is possible. With an enlightened and vigilant public, supported by the Arab and world community, history could take a different and happier path! Let’s hope and pray - we all need a break!

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @kbatarfi