What’s the world to do in Algeria and Sudan?

In Algeria, as in Sudan, the “rebels” did not deal with the “deposed” in the usual manner of your run-of-the-mill or revolutionary coups.
Sunday 21/04/2019
Structural distrust. Algerians take part in a demonstration in Algiers against French involvement in the country’s crisis, March 22. (AFP)
Structural distrust. Algerians take part in a demonstration in Algiers against French involvement in the country’s crisis, March 22. (AFP)

The Sudanese and Algerian armies took control of their respective countries or at least they are desperately trying to do that. Both moves look like coups but they are not.

The general populations in both countries, however, suspect there were transactions behind the scenes that resulted in pushing the military to the forefront and pulling familiar faces of both regimes backstage.

In Algeria, as in Sudan, the “rebels” did not deal with the “deposed” in the usual manner of your run-of-the-mill or revolutionary coups. This is the army’s Statement No. 1 in both countries, sounding as if it were drawn by the deposed presidents. The confused military leadership in Algeria and the bewildered one in Sudan looked as if they were executing a planned manoeuvre like those taught in the great military academies.

Whether these suspicions are justified or born of conspiracy theories, the people in the streets in both countries feel they are on the threshold of a historic entitlement and do not seem ready to be satisfied with cosmetic repairs of the broken facade while the roots of the regimes remain intact.

In the first waves of the “Arab spring” in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011, the front lines between the citizens and the regimes were clearly drawn. “The people want to bring down the regime,” shouted the protesters. Like in a narrative straight out of a history book, the people and the rulers were pitted against each other

Later, the front lines shifted. The showdown in Egypt turned into one between the army and the Islamists while the one in Tunisia transformed into a confrontation between the left and the Bourguibists on one side and the Islamists on the other.

None of this resembles what is happening in Sudan and Algeria. In both countries, it is not political Islam that is leading the popular movements. In fact, political Islam has been defeated and is at a loss in Sudan while it has remained hidden in Algeria. Demonstrators in Algeria expelled some Islamist figures from their actions and protesters in Sudan shouted slogans that accused political Islam of being responsible for the tyranny and corruption of the regime.

The armies in Algeria and Sudan are playing the role of a saviour. In that role, they have tried to hide the responsibility of military institutions in producing the regimes that governed in Algiers and Khartoum.

Algeria’s national army has tightened its grip on the country since independence in 1962. It has been the source of Algeria’s presidents since then. In these post-“Arab spring” times, it pressured Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign as president but that wasn’t enough to close the affair, empty the streets of demonstrators and return the country to normal life.

Similarly, in Sudan, the army played a major role in the country since independence in 1956. It was the army that conducted all the military coups, starting with one led by Ibrahim Abboud in 1958 till the one led by Omar al-Bashir in 1989.

For these reasons, people in Algeria and Sudan do not trust this so-called saviour.

When Ahmed Awad bin Auf appointed himself president of the Transitional Military Council in Sudan, he immediately issued a flood of rosy promises while, at the same time, imposing a state of emergency, a curfew and warning of heightened security measures.

Auf is now gone and the new version of the army rule, led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, insisted that it has no intention of using violence against protesters. The same spirit that has imposed itself in Sudan can be found in Algeria.

The bloody violence that is usually meted by the punishing arms of the regime against demonstrators is perhaps old hat. In any case, the armies in Algeria and Sudan have lost the virtue of power in the eyes of the people. They are winging it politically.

While “confusion” and “caution” appear to be keywords describing the exercise of power in both countries, they accurately describe the attitude of the major world capitals towards the two events.

On the street in Algeria, a new and old structural distrust of the French position is widespread. Paris often has been accused of being the real seat of power in Algeria. The charge is a bit exaggerated and reflects the ambiguous historical relationship between the two countries.

French colonisation of Algeria is cited as the root cause of Algeria’s misery and, after independence, Paris was accused of colluding with the Algerian regime. This mixed and charged attitude of the Algerian street towards France may explain Paris’s exaggerated efforts to exonerate itself from the charge of meddling in Algerian affairs.

Things seem much clearer in the case of Sudan. The world has lost control of all the keys that could be used to open Sudan’s gates: regime, opposition, armed factions, north, south, militias, the International Criminal Court, et cetera. Once more, Washington has returned to put al-Bashir and his regime on its list of terrorist organisations. Now, al-Bashir is gone and Washington didn’t have an alternative plan.

The whole world is dealing with Algeria and Sudan with a policy of minimal diplomacy. The language of diplomacy is rife with high doses of hypocrisy and uncertainty, suggesting that the fractured global system, which is trying to reshape itself, has been stymied by a sudden and insidious movement that brought about the downfall of two longstanding powerheads and that its major intelligence services have failed to see coming.

The world cannot tolerate chaos, especially in two of the largest countries in the region. It is not in the best interest of this world to prolong the period of uncertainty in Algeria and Sudan.

The major powers cannot compete and operate in a world that is out of their control. The great irony is that the positions declared by Moscow, Beijing, Washington, Paris, et cetera, are practically the same, albeit with small differences in the vocabulary chosen and the actions taken to keep pace with the crises of Algeria and Sudan.

Salvation does not necessarily mean finding a final solution that satisfies the Algerians and Sudanese. The path to salvation will be the one defined by the world for both countries within the framework of the accepted and familiar rules. This world does not like revolutions that do not resemble the “Arab spring.”