Dr. Mohammed Cherkaoui
What is alarming are these international interventions. A bad scenario is emerging through the combination of Emirati-France-American strategies to help duplicate the Sisi model in North Africa. The summer of 2019 is a good opportunity to reject all foreign conspiracies.
Between late March and early April 2019, three significant developments in North Africa captured the world imagination and raised new questions:
(1) Bouteflika’s resignation from the presidency, after a twenty-year controversial rule and an unsuccessful presidential fifth bid. Army Chief Gaid Salah’s public defection from Bouteflika has raised questions about future role of the military.
Despite the Parliament’s vote on Abdelkader Bensalah, as acting President for ninety days, protests and robust civil society continue their resistance and defiance of the army.
The political elite remains divided about the pursuit of a civilian government and peaceful political transition, while the traditional FLN-military alliance seeks to reposition itself in a new balance of power. A new puzzle looms in the horizon: how to negotiate a path forward in Algeria?
(2) The second development was a double-take act of militarism after the coup d’etat that ended the 30-year rule of Omar al-Bashir and the reconfiguration of leading members of the Transitional Military Council (TMC).
The Council, led first by General Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf before Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, sought to calm the protesters by promising the release of political detainees while the country would be under a state of emergency for three months.
It also vowed to hold general elections after two years of military rule. Interim leader al-Burhan claimed the Council is “complementary to the uprising and the revolution”, and it is “committed to handing over power to the people.”
However, demonstrators were still, determined to remain in the street, by the third week of April, “until power is handed to civilian authority.”
Ahmed al-Montasser, spokesperson for the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which has been organizing the massive demonstrations in Khartoum and other Sudanese cities, rejects the claim of a ‘regime change’ in a post-Bashir Sudan.
He asserts, “The regime remains the same. Just five or six people have been replaced by another five or six people from within the regime. This is a challenge to our people.” The question now whether the army would accept to turn to the barracks?
(3) Between Sudan and Algeria, there has been a more alarming development with a strong push of militarism at the heart of the geopolitics of North Africa.
Retired General Khalifa Haftar, who heads the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), continues his military assault against Tripoli, the headquarters of the UN-backed government of National Accord, which emerged out of the UN-brokered political transition plan for Libya, known as Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) signed December 17, 2015 in Skhirat, western Morocco.
With the support of the House pf Parliament in Tobruk, Hafter’s so-called “Karama Operation” has escalated the Tripoli-Tobruk conflict of legitimacy under the pretext of eradicating ‘terrorists’ and countering human trafficking.
By April 20, the death toll rose to at least 220, including combatants and civilians.
Earlier in February 2019, Haftar’s forces advanced to the lawless south, and captured Sharara, the biggest oilfield in the country. Haftar has been courted by leaders in France, Italy, Russia, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt in the last two years.
France said his military operation had “eliminated terrorist targets”, and was a way to “durably hinder the activities of human traffickers.”
By mid-April 2019, the United Nations became increasingly concerned with the growing international rivalries and support for competing Libyan factions, which may push Libya to the brink of full-blown war.
As Stephanie Williams, deputy head of the UN mission to Libya (UNSMIL), told the Financial Times, “There are indications that material is pouring in for both sides and that is a serious escalation.
This has to stop because broadening the conflict is going to be catastrophic. This is a city of three million people.”
These three scenarios of military-civilian geopolitics in Algeria, Libya, and Sudan raise new questions about the validity of the emerging ‘second wave’ framework of the Arab uprisings, or the so-called ‘Arab Spring 0.2’.
Should it be considered part of the same 2011-Arab political change model in an open-ended cycle of contention and collective action in Arab streets?
Or possibly the divergence between the current dynamics in Algeria, Libya and Sudan is indicating some blind spots in the one-size-fits-all analysis of the Arab uprisings, not to mention the complex cases of Egypt, Yemen, and Syria.
This paper is a summarized version of my presentation at the concluding panel “North Africa: The Future outlook” at the one-day conference “North Africa: New Elections, Old Problems”. Brookings Doha Center [BDC], hosted the conference in collaboration with the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation [Farnesina] and the Italian Institute for International Relations [ISPI], as part of the “Mediterranean Dialogues” series held this time in Doha April 17, 2019.
My presentation followed three separate panels on Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, with different perspectives of nearly twenty North African, European, and Arab American analysts and scholars.
This paper aims at addressing some of the main challenges, formulated as seven propositions, which will shape the future of the region; while expanding the theme into new elections, old problems: context, dynamics and trajectory.
It probes into the pros and cons of the desired electoral process as a logical step forward to establishing democratic states in North Africa.
It also examines the dilemma of fragmented legitimacy, as it has been the case, since the elections of August 2014 in Libya, between the rival power centers, Tobruk in the east versus Tripoli in the west.
The current showdown continues between the disputed constitutional ‘legitimacy’ of the selection of Bensalah as interim president, by the Algerian Parliament, and the counter ‘legitimacy’ of the will of the people, or people politics.
This dynamism between top-down forces and bottom-up resistance implies indirectly the need for updating our unit of analysis: state or people, military or social movement, and possibly a third variable?
The paper also probes into the evolution of the protest discourse in terms of past emotionality and symbolism , and current rationality and persistent sense of negotiation with the military in Algeria and Sudan .
Other propositions in the paper assess the commonality, or divergence, of paths between Maghreb and Mashreq, or North Africa and the Middle East, and caution against a silo-like mode of analysis by ignoring the North-South dimension of North Africa as a conduit of several strategic choices between Europe and Africa.
Since the challenges of migration, extremism, and counterterrorism have dominated recent Euro-Arab exchanges along the Mediterranean basin, the benefits of an alternative geopolitical vision, Europe-Maghreb-Africa, remains under-studied.
The last proposition examines the external factor and support for rival groups as a threat, which tends to hinder the prospects of smooth transition and to push the region into a mode of stalemate and instability.
New Points of Entry
Between 2011 and 2019, popular grievances against deteriorating economic conditions, high unemployment among the Arab youth, and lack of social mobility constitute a common causality of various cycles of uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East.
Now, there have been protest slogans of radical regime change, eradication of corruption, demands for accountability, and persistent calls for civilian rule, whereas some foreign interventions seek to sustain certain regimes and solidify the grip of power by the military, as is the case of Libya and Sudan.
The dynamism of these forces can be analyzed as common driver of the fluid Arab conflicts over the past eight years. However, the trajectories of the current episodes of political change seem to defy the one-case study-hypothesis along the distance between promising democratization and sustainable militarism.
Dr. Mohammed Cherkaoui – Senior researcher at Al Jazeera Centre for Studies, Professor of Conflict Resolution at George Mason University in Washington D.C. and former member of the United Nations Panel of Experts.
ALJAZEERA CENTRE FOR SYUDIES