In merely seven weeks the popular uprising in Algeria managed to topple its former president for two decades Abdel Aziz Bouteflika forcing him to exit office. Because Bouteflika was a symbolic figure head since he had a stroke five years ago, it was easy to sacrifice him and honor the peaceful demonstration, but real power rests with a coterie of army, security officers and businessmen. The question before them and those who have been manning the streets for the past weeks is whether to accept the superficial change taking place by removing the ailing President and some of his lieutenants or go for a more radical change that requires different effort and political imagination.
In fact even the constitutional road to hold elections within ninety days requires opposition to come up with one figure representing the array of different groups from Islamists to liberals and trade unions. And that is a mammoth task in itself.
Unlike the experience of the Arab Spring in countries like Egypt, Syria and Tunisia, Algeria has its own. It was in the early 1990s that the army cancelled the elections scheduled to be won by the Islamists. That move led to a decade of violence targeting Islamists and other opposition groups.
Though Algeria escaped the typical experiences in the Arab Spring, but it remains to be seen whether the Algerian army with its liberation background will go for a more active political role becoming in effect king maker, or mere caretaker that acts as a referee into a rough game to ensure fair playing between various stakeholders. And that depends to a large extent on the way protestors continue their activity and whether they can come up with a unified leadership, a practical inclusive political program and how strong civil society organizations are in the country.
The same dilemma seems to be more or less facing Sudan. Though anti-government demonstrations have continued double the time the Algerians took to make their first victory and despite sacrifices in terms of lives being lost, but so far the four months movement have pushed the country into a mood of change without delivering any concrete measure in that direction yet.
The state of political impasse has reached unprecedented level with heavy tolls politically and economically to the extent that the ability of the government to run the daily life of the people becomes questionable, a situation that raises concern, if not alarm bells in neighboring countries. With Libya poised to get into a civil war if the latest move by Khalifa Haftar were not restrained, Algeria on its tiptoes, Sudan addition to this growing list of uncertainty will not augur well for Sudan or the region.
The past few days in Sudan saw the perfect storm looming as traditional opposition parties threw their weight behind the ongoing anti-government demonstrations. Though it may not be a final show down yet, but the momentum is building. The government on the other hand is reviving long shunned bodies produced by the doomed National Dialogue in a move that considered by those it was intended to as irrelevant.
The irony of the situation is both combatants are banking on the army to make a tilt in the balance. President Omar Al-Bashir took the initiative early on to engage the army by appointing senior officers governors in the regional states and assigned his defense minister to be the number two man.
On the opposition camp the call started to raise asking the army to side with the people’s protest and in effect help push for change. It happened before in 1964 and 1985 when popular uprising was supported by an army that eventually forced change. Things may not be as easy and clear cut this time, not only because the regime has invested heavily in the army, but due to question marks that are surrounding any political role for the army. After all if the army is to make change why it should share its new power with others.
Again it is the same question facing Algerians, who hope for a move by the army to impact change, but stay away from direct power. Yet that depends more on the strength on the opposition and its ability to force its program more than the military’s behavior.
E N D