How Saudi Arabia and Iran could make peace and bring stability to the Middle East, if it were up to them only, would not be an impossibility as clearly demonstrated here bySamira Nasirzadeh, Lancaster University and Eyad Alrefai, Lancaster University. It would in our opinion, be made even more reachable if both countries manage to transition off their hydrocarbon-based economies and into more diversified ones.
Saudi and Iran: how our two countries could make peace and bring stability to the Middle East
Relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran have rarely been worse, regarding the attacks on the oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman – for which both sides blame each other. Nevertheless, in the history of relations between the two countries, there have been regular shifts between tension and rapprochement – and things can change for the better once again.
As an Iranian and a Saudi, working as research fellows for peace studies, we believe it is time that our two countries seek to manage the conflict, improve their dialogue and begin the peacebuilding process. And we are hopeful that this could happen.
But how? Peace cannot be achieved overnight; it requires a range of factors to strengthen diplomatic ties and decrease the level of enmity between the two states. First, we suggest both states’ politicians soften the language in their speeches, altering the hostile rhetoric to a more moderate one. This would open new paths towards a direct and constructive dialogue, reducing the tensions that are affecting the two countries, the region and, potentially, the world.
Direct dialogue between the two regional actors could launch negotiations that may lead to more stability in the region. The existing regional turmoil has had a detrimental impact on relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran over Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen. The [Yemen war], which has caused a [dramatic humanitarian crisis], remains one of the main areas of conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but it also offers ground for talks between the two states.
Both Saudi Arabia and Iran agree that the conflicts in Yemen and Syria can only be ended through the implementation of political, rather than military, solutions. If Saudi Arabia and Iran can take steps toward political compromises in Syria and Yemen, this subsequently will reflect positively on the trust building process.
While Saudi Arabia relies on its strategic Western allies and its ever-increasing military expenditure, Iran, which has been isolated by the US, prefers a more regional approach. Indeed, Saudi Arabia may have to ignore US protests to sit down at the negotiating table with Iran.
But the will for closer ties is, perhaps, there. Indeed, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, declared on March 13, 2018:
We believe that security of our neighbours is our security and stability within our neighbourhood is our stability. I hope they [Saudi Arabia] have the same feeling and I hope that they come to talks with us for resolving these problems. There is no reason for hostility between Iran and Saudi Arabia. However, we tell the Saudis that you cannot provide security from outside of the region.
Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, also recently stated in an interview that his country “does not want war with Iran, but will not tolerate what it considers hostile Iranian activity in the Middle East”.
Suspicions clearly remain, but such pronouncements could be viewed as a pause in hostilities, a turning point that could bring both sides closer together to resolve tensions.
There are also domestic reasons for a reduction in tensions, with both states building strategic plans for the future. Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has embarked on an ambitious socioeconomic plan to diversify the country’s economy by curbing its historic dependency on oil and challenging conservative social constructs and norms by unshackling society from some past constraints. In a state where most of the population is under the age of 30, Vision 2030 serves as a mega project that will lead the country to modernise economically and socially.
The same goes for Iran. The country has adopted a promising strategic plan called the 20-Year National Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran which has social, economic, and political objectives. But to be successfully implemented, both countries’ strategies will need stable societies and vibrant economies which cannot be attained in a hostile neighbourhood. Integration and cooperation will be essential.
Diplomacy is the solution
It is evident that Saudi Arabia and Iran will benefit more from direct dialogue than hostile rhetoric. Through discussing and working together on domestic, regional and international issues, it is in the interests of both states – and the wider region – to reduce conflict and increase cooperation through diplomatic ties.
The gradual shift from hostile to inclusive rhetoric by politicians is a helpful first step, but it is also necessary for Saudi and Iran to take practical action in their bilateral relationship.
It is expected for states to compete in their sphere of influence, but pragmatism must prevail if both countries want to put an end to their conflicts in the region.
10 Scenarios for the MENA region in the year 2050 as elaborated and written by @Eubulletin | Thursday, May 9th, 2019
Scenarios are imagined futures that can demonstrate how current actions may lead to dramatically different outcomes, but also serve as useful tools to help guide strategy and shape the future. This analysis lays out long term scenarios (2050) for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). These conclusions point towards greater conflict and contentious state-society dynamics, regional fragmentation and shifting centres of gravity, the region’s embeddedness in global rivalries and disruptive socio-economic and environmental international trends.
Unstoppable Climate Change
By 2050 climate change will be a decisive global reality, but its impact will differ from one region to the other. The countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) will be among the most affected: the effects will be felt across the region in the form of extreme weather phenomena, heat waves and droughts, desertification, severe water shortages and a rise in sea level. One of the most vulnerable areas will be the Nile Delta, where a sea-level rise of about 50 cm could force 4 million Egyptians to resettle to other areas. The region’s governments and societies will have to deal with scarcity of natural resources, including food, price volatility and the risks associated with new pandemics.
By 2050, a post-oil world order will be in place due to profound changes in the global energy market. Such a new order will not be triggered by a lack of supply: on the contrary, fossil fuel production may even increase for a time, thanks to the exploitation of new reserves, innovative investments in oil and tar sands, the popularization of LNG and fracking development projects beyond the United States. Prices may remain relatively low for some time despite the high demand from emerging economies. But in the longer term, the main driver of decarbonisation will be the gigantic steps forward in technological innovation for renewable energy production and storage capacities, which will be more popular due to global awareness of the climate change.
An Urbanized Region
The MENA region is characterized by high urbanization. Some 60 percent of the population was already urban by 2018 and this trend will not be reversed by 2050. While we are already familiar with “Mega Cities” such as Cairo and Istanbul, new ones will surpass the 10 million people benchmark. Baghdad and Khartoum, each with 15 million inhabitants, will be two of the fastest-growing cities in the region. The capacities of urban spaces to accommodate this new reality will depend on the pace of growth but even more on the resources deployed by local and national authorities to upgrade basic infrastructures such as public transport, sanitation and housing.
Digitalization and Automation
Technologization will be a global megatrend by 2050. Automation and Artificial Intelligence will radically transform job markets in most countries. The MENA region will be particularly affected by those trends due to the already high (and seemingly persistent) unemployment and underemployment rates, particularly among young people. While the Gulf region and Israel may adapt more easily to these changes, other countries, with large working populations, strained job markets and insufficient governance could face major social problems. Infrastructural investment, business culture, education and regulation will also determine the ability to adapt to these megatrends.
Religiosity, Individualization and Citizenship
Societal trends in the MENA in 2050 will result from the complex interplay between endogenous and exogenous variables. Fragmentation and centrifugal dynamics are likely to shape both the religious and the secular camps as well as societies as a whole. Individualization processes, among which the fact that religious or non-religious choices will be the result of each person’s preferences, and the contestation of intermediate authorities (such as religious bodies) will further fragment each camp. In any case, attitudes towards religion will continue to be a major driver of societal and political dynamics and remain a highly contentious issue.
Strong or Fierce States
Attempts to erode or complement the role of states in the region will continue. This is likely to happen by efforts to curtail their size and prerogatives. Next to this, challenges to the authority of states will prompt analysts and pundits to speculate on the weakening or outright collapse of the state system and the redrawing of the regional order. Yet, MENA states could prove more resilient than some expected. By 2050, controlling the state will remain the main and often only guarantee for elite survival. State agents (state elites, the public sector, security apparatuses) and the dynamics revolving around them (clientelism, state capitalism) will remain predominant in the region compared with other parts of the world.
Managing the Effects of Today’s Conflicts
It is impossible to determine which of the conflicts current today will be solved by 2050 and which will still be in place – let alone to predict new ones that may emerge. Nevertheless, we can take it for granted that the effects of today’s conflicts will continue to be felt in the MENA countries in 2050. Even in those cases where effective solutions have been put forward, the post-conflict trauma will mark one or more generations. In addition, new drivers of conflict are very likely to come to the forth, but all these phenomena can turn into either sources for risks or opportunities depending on how they are managed by regional and international actors.
China: Primus Inter Pares
By 2050, China is likely to be the world’s largest economy. Its annual growth rate will have remained considerably steady, keeping in check internal tensions associated with inequality and governance deficits. After almost four decades since its inception, the Belt and Road Initiative has the potential to drastically transform the socio-economic landscape of the Asian continent and of the MENA region. On the basis of the positive returns of China’s initial investments in the 2020s, the MENA authorities’ willingness to engage with China will further increase.
By 2050, the African continent could be home to 2.5 billion people. This is twice as many as in 2019. Nigeria’s population will have reached 400 million and may rank 14th among the world’s largest economies. The number of African workers will have already surpassed that of China. African mobility will be a major issue, both in terms of rural exodus and international migration. Africa’s weight in global affairs will be one of the game-changers of the following decades. The MENA region will naturally look southwards, both in terms of opportunities and risks. Not only will the MENA care more about African affairs, African leaders will also have a say in the evolution of the Middle East and the Maghreb.
Europe and the MENA Region: A Family Issue
Geographic proximity will remain a key factor in the relations between Europe and the MENA region. What is likely to change is the intensity of the societal bonds between these two spaces and what governments and the people make of it. By 2050, the proportion of Europeans with some sort of MENA background will be much higher than it is today. Such people will no longer be perceived as second- or third generation migrants but as Euro-Arabs, Euro-Turks, Euro-Kurds and Euro-Amazighs. This diversity will not only be present at the level of the general population but also among the two generations of new political and economic elites. The intensity of the connections between the EU and the region could further grow if some countries of the MENA region become members or reinforce their association with the EU.
As per the World Bank in its latest announcement, “Growth has picked up across the region and is projected to strengthen over the next few years. And almost all MENA countries have moved to reduce or eliminate energy subsidies, identify new sources of non-oil revenues, and expand social safety nets to shield the poor from adverse effects of change.”
Meanwhile the World Economic Forum informs that the MENA region hosts the world’s elite today and tomorrow by the Dead Sea shore, to try and debate some of the region’s current issues. Jordan has already held the WEF’S gathering in the recent past; refer to MENA-Forum.
ByMirek Dusek, Deputy Head of the Centre for Geopolitical and Regional Affairs, Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
For thousands of years, the Dead Sea has attracted visitors from far and wide, drawn by legends of its power to heal and rejuvenate. On 6-7 April, 1,000 key leaders from government, business and civil society will gather on its shores for the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Over two days they will confront the issues facing more than 400 million people.
A region of two opposing systems
The Arab world is a region of two contrasting systems. One system features a dynamic private sector, digitally native youth and open economies. The other has a bloated public sector and closed, controlled economies.
Most people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) interact with both systems, facing a mixed reality. Wealth sits side-by-side with poverty; an exciting entrepreneurial culture struggles with leaden bureaucracy; and an insatiable appetite for the new is balanced with a reverence for tradition.
How these two systems interact – and whether the dynamic, forward-looking system can thrive while respecting the traditions of the Arab world – is among the most important issues the region is facing today.
Five key questions
The following five areas will determine whether the Arab world can successfully move towards the system of innovation and competitiveness.
1. Can the Arab world develop a new, sustainable economic and social framework?
The social contract in much of the Arab world has relied on state-provided employment. This is unsustainable. Nearly half the population is under 25, and a quarter of those are unemployed. Add the biggest gender gap in the world, and it’s clear a new framework is needed.
2. Can a mechanism for conflict resolution be developed?
Ongoing humanitarian disasters in Syria, Yemen and Iraq require immediate attention, as do the longer-term projects of rebuilding fully functioning states. The region has been home to long-standing tensions, and unless these are mitigated, a thriving, competitive region will be hard to realise.
3. Can an ecosystem of entrepreneurship and innovation be developed?
The stories of individual success in the region are too often ones of thriving despite the economic framework. An ecosystem that nurtures innovation and encourages firms to flourish and grow is needed.
4. Are countries prepared for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Changes in the way we work are happening more quickly than most societies are prepared for. There is a short window for establishing the right regulatory environment, and reskilling people to make sure they – and the larger economies – can capture the opportunities of technology.
5. Will addressing corruption and transparency be a priority?
Governance reform is a “must do” issue in the region and disillusionment caused by perceptions of corruption is particularly strong among young Arabs.
Global questions, Arab answers
While other regions have grappled with similar questions, the Arab world needs Arab solutions, that capitalize on the unique strengths of the area while accounting for its important sensibilities. There are good examples of this starting to happen.
The UAE is playing a leading role in integrating the region into the global economy. The new Emirates Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, run by the Dubai Future Foundation in partnership with the World Economic Forum, is working to shape governance and capacity issues in the MENA, and it could shape data protocols across the world as a whole. Europe is enforcing strict data protections and regulations, while the United States is taking a more liberal approach. The Arab solution being developed may not just be a better fit for the region, but for elsewhere as well.
Saudi Arabia already has an influential voice as part of the G20, and it’s a voice that can grow. In 2020, it will host the Riyadh Summit, presenting an opportunity for greater impact on the regional and global agenda. A forward-looking programme that strengthens the MENA economies and the global economy as a whole will be an important step toward long-term success for the area.
Actions not words
There is a dire need for a new collaborative platform that brings governments together with businesses and other stakeholders in private-public cooperation. This is the aim of the World Economic Forum’s summit in Jordan. By convening members of the public and private sectors, and bringing new voices into the arena, such as the 100 Arab Start-ups, we hope to facilitate forward-leaning dialogue that understands and respects the values and culture of the region.
This article originally appeared on Fast Company, it was republished by the World Economic Forum on 8 March 2019. It is to be noted that in the eastern end of the MENA region, notably in the Gulf Cooperation Countries, Asian populations and investments happily cohabitate with the respective native minorities.
By Parag Khanna, Senior Research Fellow, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore
This excerpt is from Parag Khanna’s book “The
future is Asian”. The book was chosen as February’s book for the World
Economic Forum Book Club. Each month, a new book will be selected and discussed
in the group. The author will then join in on the last day of the month to
reply to some questions from our audience.
When we look back from 2100 at the
date on which the cornerstone of an Asian-led world order began, it will be
2017. In May of that year, sixty-eight countries representing two-thirds of the
world’s population and half its GDP gathered in Beijing for the first Belt and
Road Initiative (BRI) summit. This gathering of Asian, European, and African
leaders symbolized the launch of the largest coordinated infrastructure
investment plan in human history. Collectively, the assembled governments
pledged to spend trillions of dollars in the coming decade to connect the
world’s largest population centers in a constellation of commerce and cultural
exchange—a new Silk Road era.
The Belt and Road Initiative is the
most significant diplomatic project of the twenty-first century, the equivalent
of the mid-twentieth-century founding of the United Nations and World Bank plus
the Marshall Plan all rolled into one. The crucial difference: BRI was
conceived in Asia and launched in Asia and will be led by Asians. This is the
story of one entire side of the planet—the Asian side—and its impact on the
Asians once again see themselves as
the center of the world—and its future. The Asian economic zone—from the
Arabian Peninsula and Turkey in the west to Japan and New Zealand in the east,
and from Russia in the north to Australia in the south—now represents 50
percent of global GDP and two-thirds of global economic growth. Of the
estimated $30 trillion in middle-class consumption growth estimated between
2015 and 2030, only $1 trillion is expected to come from today’s Western
economies. Most of the rest will come from Asia.
Asia produces and exports, as well as
imports and consumes, more goods than any other region, and Asians trade and
invest more with one another than they do with Europe or North America. Asia
has several of the world’s largest economies, most of the world’s foreign
exchange reserves, many of the largest banks and industrial and technology
companies, and most of the world’s biggest armies. Asia also accounts for 60
percent of the world’s population. It has ten times as many people as Europe
and twelve times as many people as North America. As the world population
climbs toward a plateau of around 10 billion people, Asia will forever be home
to more people than the rest of the world combined. They are now speaking.
Prepare to see the world from the Asian point of view.
To see the world from the Asian point
of view requires overcoming decades of accumulated—and willfully
cultivated—ignorance about Asia. To this day, Asian perspectives are often
inflected through Western prisms; they can only color to an unshakable
conventional Western narrative, but nothing more. Yet the presumption that
today’s Western trends are global quickly falls on its face. The “global
financial crisis” was not global: Asian growth rates continued to surge, and
almost all the world’s fastest-growing economies are in Asia. In 2018, the
world’s highest growth rates were reported in India, China, Indonesia,
Malaysia, and Uzbekistan. Though economic stimulus arrangements and ultralow
interest rates have been discontinued in the United States and Europe, they
continue in Asia. Similarly, Western populist politics from Brexit to Trump
haven’t infected Asia, where pragmatic governments are focused on inclusive
growth and social cohesion. Americans and Europeans see walls going up, but
across Asia they are coming down.
Rather than being backward-looking,
navel-gazing, and pessimistic, billions of Asians are forward-looking,
outward-oriented, and optimistic.
These blind spots are a symptom of a
related oversight often found in foreign analyses of Asia, namely that they are
actually about the United States. There is a presumption that Asia (and frankly
every other region as well) is strategically inert and incapable of making
decisions or itself; all it is waiting for is the US leadership to tell them
what to do. But from the Asian view, the past two decades have been
characterized by President George W. Bush’s incompetence, President Barack
Obama’s half-heartedness, and President Donald Trump’s unpredictability.
The United States’ laundry list of perceived
threats—from ISIS and Iran to North Korea and China—have their locus in Asia,
but the United States has developed no comprehensive strategy for addressing
them. In Washington it is fashionable to promote an “Indo-Pacific” maritime
strategy as an antidote to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, failing to see how
in reality Asia’s terrestrial and maritime zones cannot be so neatly separated
from each other. For all their differences, Asians have realized that their
shared geography is a far more permanent reality than the United States’
unreliable promises. The lesson: the United States is a Pacific power with a
potent presence in maritime Asia, but it is not an Asian power.
The most consequential misunderstanding
permeating Western thought about Asia is being overly China-centric. Much as
geopolitical forecasters have been looking for “number one,” many have fallen
into the trap of positing a simplistic “G2” of the United States and China
competing to lead the world. But neither the world as a whole nor Asia as a
region is headed toward a Chinesetianxia, or harmonious global system guided by
Chinese Confucian principles. Though China presently wields more power than its
neighbors, its population is plateauing and is expected to peak by 2030. Of
Asia’s nearly 5 billion people, 3.5 billion are not Chinese.
Asia’s future is thus much more than
whatever China wants. China is historically not a colonial power. Unlike the
United States, it is deeply cautious about foreign entanglements. China wants
foreign resources and markets, not foreign colonies. Its military forays from
the South China Sea to Afghanistan to East Africa are premised on protecting
its sprawling global supply lines— but its grand strategy of building global
infrastructure is aimed at reducing its dependence on any one foreign supplier
(as are its robust alternative energy investments).
China’s launching the Belt and Road
Initiative doesn’t prove that it will rule Asia, but it does remind us that
China’s future, much like its past, is deeply embedded in Asia. BRI is widely
portrayed in the West as a Chinese hegemonic design, but its paradox is that it
is accelerating the modernization and growth of countries much as the United
States did with its European and Asian partners during the Cold War. BRI will
be instructive in showing everyone, including China, just how quickly colonial
logic has expired. By joining BRI, other Asian countries have tacitly
recognized China as a global power—but the bar for hegemony is very high. As
with US interventions, we should not be too quick to assume that China’s
ambitions will succeed unimpeded and that other powers won’t prove sufficiently
bold in asserting themselves as well. Nuclear powers India and Russia are on
high alert over any Chinese trespassing on their sovereignty and interests, as
are regional powers Japan and Australia. Despite spending $50 billion between
2000 and 2016 on infrastructure and humanitarian projects across the region,
China has purchased almost no meaningful loyalty. The phrase “China-led Asia”
is thus no more acceptable to most Asians than the notion of a “US-led West” is
China has a first-mover advantage in
such places where other Asian and Western investors have hesitated to go. But
one by one, many countries are pushing back and renegotiating Chinese projects
and debts. Here, then, is a more likely scenario: China’s forays actually
modernize and elevate these countries, helping them gain the confidence to
resist future encroachment. Furthermore, China’s moves have inspired an
infrastructural “arms race,” with India, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and others
also making major investments that will enable weaker Asian nations to better
connect to one another and counter Chinese maneuvers. Ultimately, China’s
position will be not of an Asian or global hegemon but rather of the eastern
anchor of the Asian—and Eurasian—megasystem.
The farther one looks into the
future, therefore, the more clearly Asia appears to be—as has been the norm for
most of its history—a multipolar region with numerous confident civilizations
evolving largely independent of Western policies but constructively coexisting
with one another. A reawakening of Western confidence and vitality would be
very welcome, but it would not blunt Asia’s resurrection. Asia’s rise is
structural, not cyclical. There remain pockets of haughty ignorance centered
around London and Washington that persist in the belief that Asia will come
undone as China’s economy slows or will implode under the strain of nationalist
rivalries. These opinions about Asia are irrelevant and inaccurate in equal
measure. As Asian countries emulate one another’s successes, they leverage
their growing wealth and confidence to extend their influence to all corners of
the planet. The Asianization of Asia is just the first step in the Asianization
of the world.
The armed forces have realised that the Egyptian people, who are calling on us to come to their support, are not in fact calling on us to assume power. Rather, they have called on us to perform public service and to secure essential protection of the demands of their revolution.
Six years on, Sisi is still president and the Egyptian parliament is on the verge of endorsing his rule until 2034, losing sight of the revolutionary demands which prompted millions of Egyptians to end the 29-year rule of Hosni Mubarak in January 2011.
Contrary to the hopes of 2011 and 2013, Egypt is sliding even further towards authoritarianism. Tens of thousands of citizens are languishing in overcrowded prisons. Freedom of expression, media independence and opposition movements are curbed in the name of state stability. Torture, unjustified detentions, police assaults and death sentences are the state’s strategic tools to silence protesters.
A new phenomenon
On February 14, 485 of 596 Egyptian MPs approved sweeping constitutional amendments to allow Sisi’s extension of power. The modifications to the national charter will lengthen the current four-year presidential term to six years, expand the role of the army as a state supervisory body, and give the president the constitutional right to appoint judges and the prosecutor general.
Although the new constitution still limits the president to two terms, Sisi – who was elected for a second term in March 2018 – will be granted a personal exception. The proposed amendments will now be reviewed by the parliament’s legislative and constitutional committee within 60 days before another House of Representatives vote, followed by a national referendum.
“This is totally a new phenomenon,” Ahmed Samih, the director of the Egyptian NGO Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, told me. “Neither Nasser nor the other presidents who followed him have been able to manipulate the state and the army to such a point as al-Sisi has done in the last five years.” He added:
While Nasser, and in part Sadat [both former Egyptian leaders], addressed public opinion attention toward the fight against Israel, Sisi does not have an external enemy and his struggle is thoroughly focused on repressing the Egyptian people.
Throughout his time in power, Sisi hasendorsed widespread draconian laws. He has trampled on human and civil rights by detaining thousands of activists, journalists, students and political opponents, including the former army chief of staff, Sami Anan. He has curbed the independence of the judiciary by stressing its pivotal role in fighting terrorists, Islamists and any hint of opposition. He has hindered academic autonomy by reintroducing the direct appointment of university heads.
New legal dispositions, such as the anti-protest law (2013), the counter-terrorism law (2015), the NGOs law (2017), and the cybercrime law (2018), have substantially increased the authorities’ power to surveil, repress, silence and detain political opponents. Amendments to the nationality law proposed in 2017 may revoke the Egyptian nationality of citizens living abroad and working with a foreign agency deemed to undermine the social or economic order of the state.
These laws have been harshly criticised for being excessively vague in defining what constitutes a danger for the Egyptian socioeconomic order. Moreover, legal and extra-legal measures – including torture, unfair trials and forced disappearances – have been actively implemented by Egyptian police, intelligence services and the military to ensure no one will obstruct Sisi from keeping his grip on power and militarising Egyptian life.
Removing the judiciary
Sisi’s power has been further enhanced by the approval of the recent constitutional amendments. A statement signed by at least 11 Egyptian civil society organisations explains:
The amendments eliminate all remnants of judicial independence by immunising exceptional legislation from judicial review while constitutionalising the president’s unilateral authority to appoint judicial leadership … and annul the judiciary’s financial independence.
Through these amendments, the constitutional separation of power will be destroyed, leading to an excessive concentration of authority in the president’s hands. Sisi has proved several times his reluctance to follow constitutional precepts – as in Egypt’s sale of the Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia without calling a popular referendum as required by the constitution.
The recent parliamentary vote crystallised this authoritarianism and repression in Egypt. Far from checking power, legislators gave away their responsibility as a democratic mechanism of the system. Only 16 MPs stood against the modifications.
Among them was Ahmed Tantawy, who emphasised how it dangerously concentrated power in one man’s hands and represented “a setback and a return to what is worse than the pre-25 January  system”. Other opponents, such as Khaled Youssef and Haitham al-Hariri, were subjected to harsh defamatory media campaigns – in both cases, an alleged sexual affair was used as a pretext to whip up a public scandal over “moral indecency”.
Sisi still relies on the support of many Egyptians who see him as the last bastion against the spread of political and economic instability. But, according to Samih, even staunch Sisi supporters are fading away amid the repression and a stagnant economy. Samih said:
Many Egyptian families involved in specific economic sectors, such as fishing, have been kicked out from the business, as the army has now gained an upper hand in their activities.
But the likelihood that disillusionment will lead to Sisi’s departure – or even a check on his ambitions – is slim. Even the military, often seen as the repository of power, is neutered by one of its own. During the past three years, Sisi has implemented a series of reshuffles within the executive and a purge among army generals, buttressing his undisputed authority.
The detention of the former army chief of staff, Sami Anan; the replacement of the once-powerful head of the Egyptian intelligence service, Khaled Fawzi, with a Sisi ally, and the appointment of Sisi’s sons – Mahmoud and Hassan – to key positions within the general intelligence directorate are all clear signs of Sisi’s intention to out-Mubarak Mubarak, transforming his presidency into a full-blown dictatorship.
The announcement that Algeria’s president Abdelaziz Bouteflika is seeking a fifth term has been met with a rising tide of nonviolent public protests – and possibly the beginning of a new era of resistance against the political regime that has held power since 1962.
In February, Algeria’s state news agency announced Bouteflika’s candidacy in the upcoming elections, to be held on April 18. While there had been little public opposition to Bouteflika’s continued reign since he first took office in 1999, this time Algerians have shown increasing resistence. Currently 81 and in poor health after a 2013 stroke, Bouteflika is perceived as an ineffective head of state in a country suffering from a deep economic and structural crisis.
Taking to the streets
In the weeks that followed, from Algiers to Oran, people young and old have taken to the streets and campuses to protest the continuing hold of Bouteflika and his inner circle on power, and the president’s inability to lead. Since 2013 his public appearances have been extremely rare, to the point where he failed to meet Saudi crown prince in December, supposedly because he had the flu.
Today’s protesters are of all ages and walks of life – students, working men and women, and journalists resisting state censorship. All are calling for a return to the rule of law and demanding that Bouteflika renounce running for a fifth term. As they march, protesters often sing popular football anthems with a political twist to express their demands. Songs ring out from Algeria’s 1962 independence movement and the social movements of the 1980s. In the balconies overhead, women sing out ululating “youyous” in support.
While there has also been anger and indignation, expressed through fiery speeches and unambiguous slogans, violence and clashes with the police have been relatively limited. A “million-man march on Friday, March 1, was reported to be “mostly peaceful”, with the state news agency claiming that 183 people were injured.
The street as public forum
In the absence of state institutions that allow a real political dialogue and without credible elections, the streets of Algeria have become the place where politics is practiced. The moving crowds, rallies and meetings have turned them into a public forum, with those present calling for an end to the rule of Bouteflika and his clan. This includes his brother Saïd and many members of his family or close acquaintances who have a controlling hand state affairs and the economy. In an effort to keep control, prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia has warned that a “Syrian scenario” is possible if Bouteflika isn’t returned to office. On Sunday, the TV station Ennahar reported that Bouteflika was officially a candidate for reelection.
In response, protesters have taken to the social networks to share messages of hope, filling the web with broad smiles and forceful slogans. Twitter posts have remained positive that this time things will be different.
Ongoing coverage shows streets and squares occupied by protestors, with police officers surrounded by demonstrators. Still, there’s a feeling that the regime’s grip on power may be slipping and that the balance of power could be shifting.
So far, the protesters’ strategy has been resolutely nonviolent: peaceful gestures toward the police and civic responsibility sometimes expressed in unexpected ways – including cleaning the streets after demonstrations. But will that be enough?
A fifth term for Bouteflika is unthinkable for many, yet the future is uncertain. Algeria stood aside during Arab Spring that brought down authoritarian governments in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere, in part because of memories of the country’s brutal civil war of the 1990s. However, Algeria’s regime has plagued the country with a weak economy that has worsened as oil revenues have plunged. The unemployment rate is currently near 12%, with the youth rate at 29%. Given that half of the population is younger than 25, the continuity of the state is now facing a structural and social crisis of unprecedented proportions.
Despite the Algerians’ desire for emancipation from Bouteflika’s regime, they have a stark choice: the continuation or cancellation of elections. Cancellation is the most risky of the two because it could well trigger a the declaration of a state of emergency and the return of the military to power. Yet the if elections go forward, the regime still holds the keys to power.
Given what’s at stake, should Algerian citizens accept the April 18 elections in the hope that the regime will have received the message, or push for a general strike?
By resisting political pressure and fatalism through non-violence, Algeria’s civil society is seeking to change how power is exercised in Algeria. By peacefully yet insistently calling on the country’s government and ruling clique to let citizens express themselves and truly listen to what they have to say, Algerians are setting an example. Only peaceful political dialogue and real debate can change how power is practiced in Algeria, and restore the government’s legitimacy in the eyes of its people.
Translated from the original French by Clea Chakraverty and Leighton Kille.