Arab Spring comes later in troubled Sudan and Algeria

Sudanese demonstrators ride atop a military truck and chant slogans as they protest against the army's announcement that President Omar al-Bashir would be replaced by a military-led transitional council, near Defence Ministry in Khartoum, Sudan April 12, 2019. [REUTERS]

The armed forces of Algeria and Sudan, which pushed out the long-serving rulers of those countries after mass protests, are following a script that has failed millions of Arabs since the 2011 uprisings.

Those "Arab Spring" upheavals raised hopes of political and economic reforms in countries such as Egypt, where the army watched patiently from the sidelines and then capitalised on the turmoil to widen its influence in politics.

Egypt's armed forces chief brushed President Hosni Mubarak aside when it became clear security forces could not contain street protests against the veteran leader. A military council took charge, overseeing a turbulent and sometimes violent transition during which Egypt’s first democratic elections took place.

Two years later, army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi led the overthrow of Egypt's first freely elected president, Mohamed Mursi. Sisi then won elections in 2014 and 2018, on both occasions with 97 per cent of the vote. Parliament has proposed constitutional reforms that could allow him to remain in power until 2034.

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"What I think caused a lot of the uprisings in 2011 and what's causing them today in Sudan and Algeria is the politics of deception: when the president says I won by 85 or 99 per cent at the polls but wherever you go everyone disapproves of him," said Mohammed Alyahya, a Saudi political analyst and editor-in-chief of Al Arabiya English.

Sudan appears to be following the Egyptian model, at least for now, after long-serving leader Omar al-Bashir was overthrown in a military coup last week after sustained protests.

Crowds had gathered outside the Ministry of Defence to ask the army to help them topple Bashir. The new head of Sudan's military council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan Abdelrahman, said on Saturday a civilian government would be formed after consultations with the opposition and promised a transition period of no more than two years.

He had just succeeded the officer who announced Bashir's arrest, Defence Minister Awad Ibn Auf, who stepped down as head of the military council after only a day in the face of demands for a civilian government. Protesters, however, kept up the pressure for change, just as they did in Egypt when Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi - who was defence minister for two decades - ran the country after Mubarak's fall.

A common chant among the Sudanese was "either victory or Egypt", a reference to their objection to following that script. Social media in both countries latched on to Sisi and Burhan's identical first names to humorously warn of a similar fate.

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Algeria's Army Chief, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah, took a softer approach. He declared the ailing Bouteflika, 82, unfit for office when he attempted to extend his fourth term, raising the prospect of prolonged demonstrations.

In a matter of days, parliament named a new interim leader who was part of the ruling elite, the army expressed support for a transition and a date was set for a presidential election - providing what analysts say is political cover for the army, a long-time kingmaker in Algeria.

Any future civilian leader in Sudan or Algeria needs the support of the army - a common arrangement in the Arab World - while also facing huge economic and political challenges.

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AlgeriaSudanArabsArab uprisingEgypt