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CWA # 198, 31 December 2019

The World This Year
North Africa in 2019: A year of protests, with some positive results

  Abigail Miriam Fernandez

What happened?
North Africa has witnessed a major change in 2019 after long term leaders in Algeria and Sudan were ousted amid widespread protests. Termed as the new phase of the Arab Spring which began in December 2018 with protests against Sudanese leader Omar al Bashir, culminating with his ousting in June 2019 by Sudan's military and the signing of the power-sharing deal in August. While in April, protesters took to the streets forcing the ailing Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down, foiling his plans to have run for a fifth term. Similar protest was seen in the other North African countries particularly in Morocco, demanding the release of 42 activists who had rallied against corruption and unemployment; Libya continues to be in a state of turmoil; Egypt saw protests that accused top officials of using public funds for personal fortunes and Tunisia, protests called for addressing social demands, unemployment, and poverty. Protests in Algeria and Sudan caused a ripple effect initiating a new vigour of demonstrations, especially in the youth and professions population.

Further, these demonstrations are seen to be more organised and stronger and are likely to be more prepared to fight and resist any major political or military backlash.

What is the background?
A common thread that runs through these protests most of these protests have been sparked by single factors that have been caused over a period coupled with the people’s dissatisfaction with the regime that existed in these countries.

The main trigger for the protest in Sudan was the government’s decision to increase the price of a loaf of bread from one Sudanese pound to three. This was the trigger; however, the people of Sudan have been angered over the rising costs and other economic hardships, including soaring inflation and limits on bank withdrawals resulting in the widescale demonstrations.

In Algeria, protesters took to the streets every Friday demanding a "new revolution" and oppose the government's proposed election next month. Demonstrations grew larger as the months went by with the people demanding change in the political system, in which the military plays a significant role, calling for major government reforms, accusing leaders of widespread corruption and state repression.

The economic factor has been a major cause for the outbreak of these demonstrations, most of the North African countries have dwindling economies and as a result, there is unemployment, impositions of several austerity measures, including lifting state subsidies for public services and goods and are burdened with foreign debt. This situation has caused the people to live difficult lives resulting in dissatisfaction and distress in the rulers. Further, the political establishments in these countries are ridden with corruption and military authoritarian rulers who have fallen short in reaching the needs of the people.

What does it mean?
Although there seems to be a lot of commonality for the cause of these demonstrations, the implications are different due to the situation and structure in each country. In Sudan, there seems to be an optimistic view of the transitional framework that has been put in place to secure Sudan’s move to democracy. The provision of the deal would help in the smooth transition of power from the military to civilians as the first phase of the rotation is given to the military and the second to the civilians, thus enabling them to make a rather easy transition. The deal also goes to imply that the military council is not hesitant to let the people taken control. Their willingness to a deal of this kind only reiterates that they are ready to work with the people. Thus, giving hope for Sudanese people.

However, in Algeria, there does not seem to be much optimism as the people are still displeased with the newly elected President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, where many protesters have rejected Tebboune as part of a condemned elite, and want a new political system instead. This leaves Algeria in a perplexing situation where there remains an absence of a shared vision concerning the future of the country, where the army seems unwilling to give up their power. Thus, resulting in a deadlock between the army and the people, this situation could also spur a total military takeover and cancellation of any negotiations regarding the country's new politico-constitutional arrangements.

The protest movements in 2019 have been more nationalistic and less ideological, this is seen in the agenda that the protesters have carried out. What the people of the North African countries want is independence from oppressed regimes and a better standard of living, for which they have taken to the streets demoing change. 
 

Abigail Miriam Fernandez is a postgraduate scholar at the Department of International Studies, Stella Maris College, Chennai

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