Article by Karin Bashir,
Almost a full decade has passed since the Arab Spring took place. It was a movement that inspired the world and fundamentally changed the political landscape of the Middle East. Protests erupted across Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, and Syria, threatening entrenched regimes and redefining the future of the region. Many expected that the Arab Spring would have resulted in regime change in Algeria due to its corruption, bad governance, state repression and deteriorating economy. And yet, the initial riots were swiftly contained by the police. Since then, it seemed that despite local strikes and protests, the country would remain firmly in the grasp of the 82-year-old ruling President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
However, the long-standing president unknowingly sparked the flame that would ultimately lead to the regime’s end when he announced his intention to run for a fifth term. In response to his announcement, tens of thousands of people poured into the streets on February 22nd to protest in cities across Algeria. The protestors were fueled by anger towards Bouteflika, who began his presidency in 1999, suffered a stroke in 2013 and has since been largely decapacitated, leaving the country in the hands of the military and civilian elite. Resentment against the ailing president was furthered by the failing economy which has left thousands of youth with little opportunity and pessimism about the future.
Despite protesters’ demands for him to step down, Bouteflika pushed forward with his candidacy. Even though protesting is illegal in Algiers, anti-Bouteflika protests were the largest displays of public protest in the country since 1962 when the war of independence from France ended. In the past, the regime was able to quell protest through a well-trained police force, bribes, and housing vouchers. This time, the current of the thousands of Algerian men, women and youth was too strong to hold back. On April 2nd, after 20 years in power, Abdelaziz Bouteflika finally stepped down. The streets filled with celebration with protesters vowing to continue the demonstrations until the entire government has been ousted.
As Tunisia inspired Egypt in 2011, Algeria appears to be inspiring the people of Sudan to revolt against their president of the last three decades, Omar al-Bashir. On April 6th, thousands of protestors held a sit-in outside Sudan’s defense ministry in Khartoum. Since then, dozens of demonstrations continue to take place throughout the capital. Al-Bashir security forces have responded with violence, killing 22 anti-government protestors and wounding 153 so far since the sit-in protest began on the 6th. The sit-in is the newest phase of protests, organized by doctors, teachers and lawyers, that began on December 19 to demand Al-Bashir to step down. And on April 11th, Al-Bashir was unexpectedly overthrown and arrested in a coup by the armed forces. As Algeria, Egypt, and Tunisia have shown, even the most powerful, entrenched leaders can be brought to their knees by the strength of the determined and organized masses. As in Algeria, the victory in Sudan is just as bittersweet. Though Al-Bashir is gone, his corrupt government remains and protesters are determined to continue the fight until the military hands the government over to the people. If the Arab Spring has taught us anything, this is only the beginning of political strife to come as parties vie for power in the changing landscape of post revolution Sudan and Algeria.