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.
Proposition 3: What New Unit of Analysis?
As conflict theorist John Burton asserts, “It will be seen that consideration of a human element has extensive implications and is basic to thinking about the nature of conflict and its resolution.
If there are human needs that have to be accommodated, then conflict control will have to give way to quite different processes which seeks the source of conflict and the environmental conditions that promote conflict, leading to institutional change.
Conflict will have to be defined as a problem to be resolved rather than a situation in which behaviors have to be controlled.”
Despite the power struggle in the current conflicts in North Africa, the focus should not be on either side of the conflict as top-down status quo, with some cosmetic alterations of certain political figures, or bottom-up calls for radical change.
For instance, a civil society collective of Algerian associations and unions dubbed, “For a peaceful way out of the crisis”, has pointed out, “Recent developments and signals sent by the system confirm the continuation of the ‘clan transition’ option, in reference to the networks of the former Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS) which was disbanded in 2016.
What matters here is neither the grandiosity of the protests, nor the magnitude of the establishment resistance or gradual concessions.
Instead, it is high time to shift to a new unit of analysis: the human dimension and changing demographics, in addressing the military-civilian dialectic, growing role of protestors, momentum of civil society organizations, and North African diaspora.
For example in Algeria as Pecastaing points out, “The street may detest Le Pouvoir but there is no structure to stand against it.
Algerians show an exceptional level of distrust for authorities and institutions, perceived to be corrupt and dictatorial. The mindset is a mix of conspiratorial paranoia and apathetic rage, of hatred and despair.”
Amidst the current tit-for-tat between protestors and the establishment, social movement and the army, or people and state, the sequence of events in Algiers, Tripoli, and Khartoum has highlighted the relational aspect of strategy/counter-strategy, or what can be termed as relationsim, in shaping a new balance of power at the crossline between protestors and the police.
The human dimension has broken away from fear, and is now energizing its frames of robust people politics, whereas traditional centers of power are losing the political capital of legitimacy.
So far, no charismatic leader has emerged from the Arab uprisings to guide the masses forward. These projects of political change need well-enlightened leaders and organic critical intellectuals.
Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci once wrote, “all men [sic] are “philosophers”’ insofar as everyone has a specific conception of the world, a “worldview” which they have forged out of their experience and circumstance.
The task was to develop philosophy, both in its specialised form as scholarship and in its everyday form, into “critical awareness.”
Proposition 4: Evolution of the Protest Discourse
The current dynamics in Algeria, Libya and Sudan highlight the evolution of the Arab protest movement. Between 2011 and 2019, the motto of collective action Irhalism (derived from the slogan “”[Irhal] [Degage, French]; [Get out, English] has shown some maturity of less emotionality.
It represented a new global social movement which has emerged in a wide multicultural and globalized sphere. The slogans Ashaab yourid (The people wants) and Irhal, as new frames of non-violent protest, were adopted by protestors in other parts of the world. They embody a new sociological prototype of protestor: “The Graduate with no Future”.
As I wrote in a previous publication, Irhalism has become synonymous to peoplehood politics worldwide, and seems to shape a new social movement theory as it aspires for a moral philosophy in contemporary politics.
It has captured the imagination of many political sociologists with the novelty of non-traditional social actors who have mastered the narrative of change and gained social power from the fading public belief in the Hobbesian social contract theory.
Irhalism has also energized new hopes for cosmocracy, which perceives the political evolution of civil societies above the state’s boundaries in the pursuit of cross-border global governance.
Instead of commemorating the legacy of Mohamed Bouazizi whose death in Sisi Bouzid was the spark that ignited the first Arab uprising in Tunisia, or romanticizing the emotional sentiment in Tahrir square in January in 2011, protestors in Khartoum have chanted newly-constructed slogans, such as “freedom, peace and justice”, “revolution is the people’s choice”, and “Just fall – that is all” (tasquṭ bas).
Their Algerian peers have been passionate: “Down with the System!”, “You ate the country, you bunch of thieves”, and “They must go. The Bs must go.”
There has been also a gender shift in the symbolism of the protests. For instance, young Sudanese women, like Alaa Salah, have become called ‘kandakas’, the title of the queens of ancient Sudan.
Alaa stood on the top of a car chanting an inspiring song of revolution and became the uprising’s iconic image. From a comparative perspective with 2011, the current protests seem to be well-pointed and less emotional.
Their symbolic dimension, in text or imagery, tends to be rational and coherent in demanding radical change and rejection of a military rule. This shift could be a step forward to more strategic frames in the next round of Arab protests.
Proposition 5: New Line of Demarcation
Any projection of future shifts in Algeria and Libya, more than Sudan, would be significant in reconstructing the relationship between Maghreb and Mashreq.
The Algerian-Libyan borders constitute now more than one level of geopolitics in the region.
On April 17, 2019, the Algerian army conducted the so-called “The Bright Star 2019” ammunition exercises in the area of In Amenas near the Libyan border, under the supervision of the Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Ahmed Kayed, “in circumstances close to the reality of real battles”, two weeks after the outbreak of armed clashes in western Libya.
As Alia Brahimi points out, “The Algerians have long been suspicious of the renegade general’s [Haftar] claims to be a force for stability and favoured a negotiated political settlement to the Libyan crisis that would secure the 600-mile shared border.
But in the last two months, domestic protests and the resignation of the Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, have preoccupied the Algerian military – perhaps the only force in the region with a deterrent effect on Haftar.”
During the three-month transitional period [April-June] in Algeria, any violent incident which may occur on these borders and will turn into legitimate justification for the Algeria army, as the sole protector of the national security, to intervene and call for a state of emergency.
As one analyst put it, “A military popular enough to referee the upcoming transition will make democratization much more difficult.”
The Algerian-Libyan borders have another strategic significance should Algeria maintain the course of peaceful path toward democratization, following the example of Tunisia.
They may define some Maghreb exceptionalism in terms of peaceful and smooth transformation of Arab societies.
Geo-political scientists may accept my proposed line of demarcation in conceptualizing the Maghrebi tendency toward peaceful transition, civilian rule, and non-militarization of politics; whereas Mashreq, or the Middle East, has drifted into open-ended civil wars in Syria and Yemen, sectarianism in Iraq, militarism in Egypt, and other aspects of non-inclusive politics.
Such a debate echoes the classical exchange about the philosophical turn Maghreb took in the late 12th century when it found resonance in the rational philosophy Ibn Rushd (Averros), as he energized Aristotelianism, mainly in book “Tahafut al Tahafut” (Incoherence of Incoherence), published in 1150.
However, Mashreq had favored the traditional non-critical ideas of Abu Hamid Ghazali and his 1095 book Tahafut al Falasifa (Incoherence of Philosophers).
The two men had different interpretations of the position of philosophy and critical thinking in formulating mantiq [logic], or what Mohamed Abed Al-jabri critiqued as “Arab reason” in late 20th century.
Libya now is at crossroads now; and the outcome of Haftar’s military campaign against Tripoli will decide whether it confirms Libya’s Maghrebi spirit of change, or what Philip Naylor calls “exceptional cultural unity”, or may follow the path of Mashreq.
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