Massive anti-government protest movements in Algeria and Sudan share similarities with demonstrations during the Arab Spring of 2010 and 2011.
Anti-government protesters are back in the streets of Algeria and Sudan. In Algeria, they’re angry with 82-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s decision to seek a fifth term in office, despite being too ill to even make a public appearance.
To the east and south across the Sahara Desert, protests against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir are in their third month as organizers impressively defy a state of emergency, violence and intimidation.
This week on “Wake” we’ll consider whether the Middle East and North Africa are experiencing a second “Arab Spring,” and if so, what’s different this time around.
Helping us do that are this week’s guests:
- Zachariah Mampilly, professor of political science and international studies, Vassar College
- Chloe Teevan, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, European Council on Foreign Relations
Are current protests in Sudan a carry-over from demonstrations in the 2011 Arab Spring?
Zachariah Mampilly: “In terms of the afterlife of the protests – especially when talking about the protests that unfolded in North Africa in 2011 – it’s important to realize that when we talk about social movements and protests in general it’s better to have a 10 to 20 year time horizon in order to understand the actual impacts of any specific protest.
In the U.S. context, if we looked at the civil rights movement in 1955 we would say it was a failed social movement. Not much had happened, people have been protesting, people had been going out into the street, but the response from the government was pretty minimal. And then obviously if you wait another 10 more years the transformation is extraordinary.
So I think it’s important to understand that these earlier protests certainly have afterlives and that what is happening now is directly and indirectly connected to what happened before. And I mean this not only in a symbolic sense, but in a very literal sense.
If you look at who has been involve din the protests that are unfolding in Sudan currently, many of these are young people who participated in the protests in 2011 and 2012. They were successfully repressed by the government and they have now reemerged – as probably should have been expected – with new strategies based on their failures to trigger a mass popular uprising last time.
As far as the regime goes, the failure or the misreading of the Bashir regime was that they could rely on a similar set of tactics that they’d used in the past to prevent protests to deal with the current upsurge.”
What about in Algeria? Are protesters there framing their movement as part of something bigger?
Chloe Teevan: Actually I think in Algeria it’s been very much the opposite – people are really pointing out that this is their struggle, it’s original, it’s particular.
There’s been a lot of solidarity expressed from activists all across the Arab World, and I think activists in a lot of other countries are watching Algeria very, very closely. But ultimately I do think that the Algerians really see this as their struggle and something that they started in 1988.
What’s likely to unfold in Algeria and what dynamics should we be watching?
Chloe Teevan: The security forces thus far have shown restraint and the protesters have really, really emphasized that these are peaceful protests and that’s a very, very important point.
I think that both sides, because of the experience of the 1990’s, are very keen for this not to end up violently. So in the coming weeks, and even in the coming days, it will be worth keeping an eye out to see whether there are more defections around the president, because I think this is a sign that the president is being weakened, and I would not be surprised if we see further defections in the coming days.
Has the U.S. or any other outside players weighed in on the Algerian protests?
Chloe Teevan: It has to be noted that thus far outside actors seem to be playing very little of a role. I would say this is a smart move, particularly when it comes to the west, because Algeria is a country that guards its sovereignty very strongly and that’s both from political forces, but also from the general public. The colonial experience and the war of independence are very important historical memories in this country and as a result the nation has kind of been built on a very strong sense of national sovereignty, and anything that seems to be outside interference is very much frowned on by the population, as well as by the political elite.
So we’ve seen, particularly from France and from the European side, there has actually been very little by way of public statements. They’re watching very, very closely but there hasn’t yet been any direct interference. I think it will depend greatly on how these protests evolve and what the response of the army turns out to be in the coming weeks. Because sooner or later the president will need to step down or there could potentially be a repressive response.
Is the U.S. simply too distracted to get involved in Sudan or Algeria?
Zachariah Mampilly: Unfortunately I don’t think it’s just about distraction. Obviously we are living throughout a tumultuous period and there is a lot going on the world that distracts government in particular ways, but it’s important to remember that Algeria and Sudan are two of the three biggest countries in Africa. These are big, big places with huge populations and what happens in them is of major international significance, and it’s not adequate to simply assume that they’re happening in some remote location that has no relevant for broader geostrategic concerns.
That being said, in terms of bow the United States has responded, I think unfortunately the international community and western governments in particular are pretty wary of protesters. There aren’t many cases historically of the U.S. government siding with protesters, unless we already had a tense relationship with the government in power.
In Sudan there has been a warming of relations between the Sudanese and the Americans, the Sudanese are quite close to the Saudi regime, which of course is a strong ally of the United States, and as such there hasn’t been much from Washington in terms of support for the protests or critiques of the Bashir regime, which is pretty extraordinary considering at one point we thought of the Bashir regime as akin to the North Koreans or the Iraqis under Saddam Hussein. So I’m fairly disappointed there.
Similarly I think in the Algerian context, once again whether we’re talking about Bouteflika in Algeria or Mubarak in Egypt before the revolution, these are regimes that have been able to survive largely by engaging very closely with western states. And part of how they do that is by taking on the role of an essential partner in the concerns about the war on terror having spread in parts of Africa and in the Sahel in particular.
And so I think those dynamics – wherein we have a close military relationships with a number of these countries – prevent us from overtly criticizing these regimes, which as you know have been quite problematic from the perspective of the citizens of those countries, and hence we have largely refrained from directly intervening to criticize these regimes, many of which actually use American-made or French-made weapons to repress their own populations.”