Confrontation between military and civilians paves the way for populists

The situation allows for the return of those who gained tremendously from the practices of al-Bashir’s regime and who are waiting for their opportunity abroad.
Sunday 09/06/2019
Complex role. Sudanese supporters of the ruling Transitional Military Council hold up a sign showing a portrait of its head General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan during a rally in Khartoum, May 31.(AFP)
Complex role. Sudanese supporters of the ruling Transitional Military Council hold up a sign showing a portrait of its head General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan during a rally in Khartoum, May 31.(AFP)

The conflict between supporters of the military establishment and supporters of civil rule in some Arab countries is no longer a secret. The showdown reached a point in which competition for ascendancy is a zero-sum game. This is the cause of the complications in the crises of Algeria and Sudan.

The intense confrontation, the distrustful attitude and the refusal to compromise have led to a high level of polarisation and sent rival sides racing to seek alliances by any means. The result is that the tug of war has entered a sensitive phase in which each side wants to break the will of the other. Each side wants to strengthen its approach to capture power and push the opposing side into a tight corner.

In this charged atmosphere of intense verbal clashes, battle dust rises, blurring the political scene and making it difficult to find the right path out of the impasse.

The contours of the phenomenon are obvious in Algeria and Sudan but the topic is relevant in many Arab countries that are searching for a governance mechanism that reduces risks, preserves security and leads to stability and reform.

The growing role of the military establishment in some Arab countries in securing power and in building a civil state is the result of the weakness of political parties and the fragility of the civil forces in those countries. Leaders of some Arab armies have found strength in the fact that there was usually some uncertainty in those countries about the ability of any other party to achieve the aspirations of the citizens because, in the civil camp, ideas and visions were dispersed.

There is a long-standing Arab problem that relates to the degree to which people are prepared for democracy. Is there really a need for specific preparations, introductions or arrangements for this type of rule or are these issues an excuse to block democratic rule?

There is no clear answer to that question because each country has its specific style of governance. A single recipe or guide for democracy that can be generalised to all countries does not exist.

We can find many examples of military leaders who have adopted open and progressive civil discourse and we can find many examples of civilian and experienced political leaders who gave priority to military rule during exceptional transition periods and even permanently.

However, there are not many examples of generals who boast about wearing the military uniform after coming to power. Most of them take off their uniforms as soon as they seize power to preserve the appearance of democratic rule and proceed to hold on to their own rule.

Developments in Algeria and Sudan revealed the deliberate intent of some quarters inside and outside both countries to increase confusion between the military establishment and civilian forces. They insist on the difficulty of finding common ground between the two sides and seek to feed contradictions to perpetuate the divisiveness until the main rival forces are exhausted and accept the demands of competing circles because the presence of a single force in power — military or civilian — represents a danger to parties that feel uncomfortable with progress towards stability.

Each side — military and civilian — has supporters and detractors and they are usually working to support the team that seeks unchallenged access to power because they think it protects their interests. In such circumstances, the Islamist current has become a winning number in the balance of power. It can determine the direction of the tug of war by siding with this party or the other.

Proponents of Islamists tend to favour civilian rule, while their opponents support giving the military an opportunity to govern because they see in the military the only party capable of undermining the influence of Islamists.

This prevailing sharp polarisation has negative consequences for the state because it leads to exhausting it and engulfing it in battles that negatively affect its future.

In the case of Sudan, the divergence between visions is leading to the failure to pay attention to many of the problems that are besetting the state and offers supporters of the counter-revolution an opportunity to use the lack of understanding between the military council and the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces alliance to prepare for the return to power of the internal forces that are opposed to the dismissal of Omar al-Bashir.

The situation allows for the return of those who gained tremendously from the practices of al-Bashir’s regime and who are waiting for their opportunity abroad.

As the confrontation between supporters of the military establishment and their opponents takes root in Algeria and Sudan, it becomes clear that both sides are heading for certain defeat. This situation is likely to allow for the emergence of populist trends that transcend the apparent differences between the supporters of each camp and take advantage of the increasing confusion as organised groups fail to fulfil the wishes of the masses.

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