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.


1. The Military Position

The new cases of Algeria, Libya, and Sudan affirm the centrality of the military-civilian equation in shaping the prospects of a peaceful and smooth transition.

The twist of events in Egypt, between January 2011 and July 2013, exposed a hidden strategy of the military, and showcased a setback of the democratic promise of the Uprising after General Sisi decided to put President-elect Morsi in jail.

It also represented a test of pluralism in Arab politics within the big battle between militarism, secularism, and Islamism.

The Egyptian case remains pivotal in analyzing subsequent episodes of the Arab political change, and accentuates the significant role of the army in supporting, or derailing, the locomotive of revolutions.

One can trace similar scenarios back to Algeria after the electoral victory of the Islamic Salvation Front in 1991, Sudan in 1989, Haiti after Jean-Claude Duvalier’s departure in 1986, post-Marcos Philippines in 1986, Turkey in 1980, Chile in 1973, Iran in 1953, Spain in 1936, and Mexico after the fall of Porfirio Díaz in 1911.

I still recall a private conversation over dinner with a North African foreign minister in July 2011, when he cautioned against ignoring the calculations of the Egyptian Army despite its pretense of being ‘neutral’, or acting as the ‘safeguard’ of the transitional period, during the Tahrir square popular demonstration against the Mubarak regime.

Sociologist Jack Goldstone also pointed to the military factor. He wrote in his Foreign Affairs article in May 2011, “The greatest risk that Tunisia and Egypt now face is an attempt at counterrevolution by military conservatives, a group that has often sought to claim power after a sultan has been removed.”

Some EU officials were skeptical of the long-term role of the Egyptian Army. For instance, Heidi Hautala, chairwoman of the European Parliament’s Human Rights Sub-committee, was wary about the power of the Army.

She urged the European Union “to closely follow the actions of the Armed Forces Supreme Council that is now ruling Egypt. We cannot befriend rulers or temporary military governments whose commitment for human rights is not clearly evidenced. Let us see how genuine the promises of the Egyptian Army are regarding the lifting of the state of emergency.”

In contrast to this dubious scenario of Egypt, Tunisia’s military remained faithful to the Constitution during the turmoil of 2011.

General Rachid Ammar—a national hero who goes by the pseudonym of “the man who said no”— described how the army “saw itself as the caretaker of the revolution and would see it through to the end.”

He sent a clear message that the army “would not reprimand peaceful demonstrations, but it would suppress those that would lead to a political vacuum, because that vacuum would surely lead to another dictatorship.”

This year, the Algerian military establishment seems to be standing at the intersection between the Tunisian option and the Egyptian option.

Its generals and commanders remain eager to protect their interest. Army Chief Gaid Salah’s public defection from Bouteflika can be seen, as some analysts argue, as an “attempt to ingratiate the army and himself with the protesters in the hopes of surviving the revolution.”

Algeria observers like Camille Pecastaing of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington argue Bouteflika’s ‘resignation’ was not as such, rather the result of “internal factional strife than people power”.

He asserts it was a corrective action that was supposed to take place ten years ago.

According to Pecastaing, “the military-security apparatus had never intended for Bouteflika to last past his original reconciliation mission, but the presidency carried enough weight that the incumbent was able to re-impose his candidacy on voters not once but four times: in 2004, 2009, 2014, and initially in 2019.”

2. Beyond Transitology

The new uprisings in Sudan and Algeria and Haftar’s military campaign in Libya have perplexed most political scientists and historians, notably transitologists.

One of these transitologists is Marc Lynch who energized the use of the ‘Arab Spring’ meta-frame in his January 6th, 2011 Foreign Policy article.

He recognizes “we are all struggling to understand these changes. Their historical novelty, dizzying pace, and rapid reversals have proven challenging to Arabs and outside observers alike.”

These developments in North Africa have taken analysts back to the drawing board to deconstruct essentially the role of the military establishment and other transformative institutions.

They have also revived debate over the validity of an ‘Arab transitology’, within the hypothesis of a ‘universal’ theory of democratization and the possibility of studying relevant processes of democratization in various social contexts like eastern European and Latin American countries after the Cold War.

Transitology theory derives from the assumption of some overtly gradual transformation within the tradition of political science. It follows a line of inquiry shaped mainly by Euro-American theories of democratic transition.

As sociologist Dankwart A. Rustow, known as the father of the transitology paradigm, explains, “the genesis of democracy, thus, has not only considerable intrinsic interest for most of the world; it has greater pragmatic relevance than further panegyrics about the virtues of Anglo-American democracy or laments over the fatal illnesses of democracy in Weimar or in several of the French Republics.”

Some scholars of structuralism perceive the Arab uprisings as the “fourth wave” of democracy in the sequence of past transitions to democracy:

The first wave emerged in southern Europe (Portugal, Greece, and Spain).

The second occurred in Latin America (Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay) and led to the collapse of the authoritarian states.

The third wave was in the central and eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union, where democratic concepts introduced to political life in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Romania.

The first three waves of change happened, as some democracy theorists argue, in areas with similar conditions of political decay, socio-economic grievances, and are the closest episodes to what has happened in MENA region.

Back in 2011, the commonality of the large-scale protests across the region and the removal of four Arab presidents then: Ben Ali, Mubarak, Ghaddafi, Saleh within a domino-like political wave, led to the belief in one unifying pan-Arab revolutionary moment in modern history.

However, the Syrian conflict has gone astray with violence and struggling world diplomacy. It has entered a stalemate after the UN-brokered Geneva talks as well as the Russia-led Sochi and Astana gatherings for a reconciliation plan.

There is growing skepticism toward the diplomatic maneuvering, by the UN New York, the Kremlin in Moscow, or other initiatives in the region.

In contrast, the military operations on the ground are tilting toward a protracted conflict.

Some observers have concluded that without reliable intermediaries on the ground to supervise so-called reconciliation processes, “stability will be ephemeral and peacebuilding unattainable.”

Consequently, Syria is doomed to suffer more violence for many years to come. These deteriorating conditions have morphed into the world’s “largest humanitarian crisis.”

One can draw several parallels between the Syrian conflict and Libyan conflict. They have been perpetuated by subsequent cycles of violence and dominant militarism, and have revealed the UN diplomacy fatigue.

The majority of Libyans feel less enthusiastic and believe the current deadlock is too strong to make any real political overtures. The only political momentum in Libya at present is the United Nations’ search for a new impetus among rival centers of power, including the militias.

However, leaders of political and military rival groups are reluctant to engage in the UN process or to commit to any final decision.

There is growing hopelessness regarding UN diplomacy, which has been characterized by recurring themes of “promising” dialogue and “imminent” reconciliation, proposed by five consecutive UN special envoys:

Ian Martin (2011-2012), Tarek Mitri (2012-2014), Bernardino León (2014-2015), Martin Kobler (2015-2017), and Ghassan Salamé (June 2017-present).

Georgetown scholar Michael Hudson illustrates a two-fold failure, “Political science has so far offered little by way of enlightenment as to the future course of the Arab Uprisings.

It has disappointed us in two ways: “persistent authoritarianism” did not prepare us for the Uprisings, and “transitology” seems too-limited ‘fair weather” approach to what has emerged as a confusing and diverse post-Uprising environment.”

3. Addressing the 3-C Dilemma

The current popular defiance in Algiers, Tripoli, and Khartoum against the return to militarism contests the monopoly of certain elite and the failure of local socio-economic policies.

Former presidents Bouteflika and Bashir adopted an ill-sighted decision-making mandate in favor of what I term as the 3-C dilemma: cronyism, clientelism, and corruption.

This dilemma explains how mutual dependency between the ruling elite, certain financers, and generals is essential in modifying those regimes from authoritarianism into neo-authoritarianism.

Peace studies founder Johan Galtung blames certain structures of causing societal imbalances and socio-psychological tension within individuals or what he calls “structural violence.”

He conceives structural violence as a type of violence built into the social structure and “should exhibit a certain stability: social structures may perhaps sometimes be changed overnight, but they may not very often be changed that quickly.”

Like other Arab capitals, Algiers and Khartoum have maintained the power of their old-boys’ club, or golden circle of state backers, to help smoothen the transition.

Political scientist Francis Fukuyama has seen this pattern elsewhere in modern history; “While modern political orders seek to promote impersonal rule, elites in most societies tend to fall back on networks of family and friends, both as an instrument for protecting their positions and as the beneficiaries of their efforts.

When they succeed, elites are said to “capture” the state, which reduces the latter’s legitimacy and makes its less accountable to the population as a whole.

Still, the scale of Algeria’s intended reforms remained below the expectations of the masses. By mid-April, twelve Algerian businessmen associated with Bouteflika, including billionaire Ali Haddad, were arrested in a move which may give some indicators of decisiveness against corruption in the eyes of the protestors.

As one analyst predicts, “Gaid Salah may next have to scapegoat other elements of the gang, including the “three B’s”: Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, soon-to-be interim president Abdelkader Bensalah, and the head of the Constitutional Council, Tayeb Belaiz who resigned April 17.”

Accordingly, the trajectory of current protests in Algiers, Tripoli, and Khartoum should not be analyzed through a linear perspective; but rather within a chain of strategic actions, reactions, and counter-reactions of various stakeholders at the domestic, regional, and international levels.

Complexity theory provides an explanatory framework for the study of interrelated factors and dependencies, and helps explain why interventions may have un-anticipated consequences. The intricate inter-relationships of elements within a complex system give rise to multiple chains of dependencies.”

The following seven propositions address the main lessons learned since 2011 and aim at shading some light on future challenges in North Africa transformation.


Dr. Mohammed CherkaouiSenior 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.






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