Sudan’s military rulers to hand over power to a civilian authority

Sudan’s military rulers to hand over power to a civilian authority

The African Union (AU) has ordered Sudan’s military rulers to hand over power to a civilian authority or face suspension within 60 days.

Could the AU come up with the same order towards Algeria, since it is increasingly obvious that the prevalent situation is of the same character.

To put one into the picture, Zoe Marks, Erica Chenoweth, and Jide Okeke wrote in a Foreign Affairs‘ article titled People Power Is Rising in Africa the following:

A new tide of people power is rising in Africa. On April 2, a nonviolent resistance movement in Algeria succeeded in pressuring Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign after 20 years as president. Nine days later, protesters in Sudan were celebrating the ouster of Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s president of 30 years, after a three-month-long uprising against his regime.

The nonviolent overthrows of Bouteflika and Bashir are not aberrations. They reflect a surprising trend across the continent: despite common perceptions of Africa as wracked by violence and conflict, since 2000, most rebellions there have been unarmed and peaceful. Over the past decade, mass uprisings in Africa have accounted for one in three of the nonviolent campaigns aiming to topple dictatorships around the world. Africa has seen 25 new, nonviolent mass movements—almost twice as many as Asia, the next most active region with 16.

The AU demands Sudan Military rulers hand over power to civilian authority

By thespecimennews on May 2, 2019

The AU said it noted “with deep regret” that the military had not stepped aside and handed power to civilians within a 15-day period set by the AU last month.

The bloc also reiterated “its conviction that a military-led transition in Sudan will be totally unacceptable and contrary to the will and legitimate aspirations, to democratic institutions and processes, as well as respect for human rights and freedoms of the Sudanese people”.

The military assumed power in Sudan after toppling the country’s long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir following months of anti-government protests.

It promised to hold elections within two years but protesters have rejected that and remained on the streets of the capital, Khartoum, demanding immediate civilian rule. 

The council, led by General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan, has been negotiating with protest leaders on the formation of a new transitional government. But the two sides are divided over the role of the military, which is dominated by al-Bashir appointees. 

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Women Hold up Half the Sky

Women Hold up Half the Sky

A proclamation in support of women to carry or metaphorically shoulder the weight of half of all life’s endeavours and Mao Zedong was its author.  It is nowadays used in arguments aimed at trying to lower gender inequality and potentially turn oppression into opportunity for women worldwide. The infamous political glass ceiling has yet to get rid of and prove that women are a resource that ought to be deployed. Women empowerment and leadership have made strides in the workplace, but a lot remains to be done, especially in MENA countries.

The story below from An Englishwoman in Algeria is a good point in case, for today, March 8, International Women’s Day, in Algeria, where as it happens, there will coincidently be massive street demonstrations against the reconduction of an aging and ailing male president to yet another and fifth term in office.

Half the Sky

Posted on March 8, 2019 by wendyouali


Amidst the chaotic swirl of colour and noise that was our wedding, I had found a quiet corner where I could chat to two of T’s young cousins. They were like teenagers anywhere, giggly and bespectacled, showing off their best party frocks, and for me, they brought a reassuring air of normality to proceedings.

Suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder — one that demanded my immediate attention. I turned around to meet a pair of shrewd black eyes belonging to a small woman who was scrutinising me, hands on hips, head thrown back and feet planted wide apart. My mother-in-law, fluttering anxiously next to the unknown woman, eyes darting from me to her, was wringing her hands and smiling tremulously.

Both of them seemed advanced in years to my twenty-two-year-old eyes, but they were probably only in early middle age, my mother-in-law in her late forties and her aunt, her father’s sister, for so her companion turned out to be, perhaps ten years older. But there the similarities ended.

My mother-in-law had skin like crumpled white silk, moist blue eyes and the comfortably rounded contours of someone who had been cosseted practically all her life. By contrast, her aunt, Fatouma, or NaF’touma, as she was known, seemed much older, her frame spare and rawboned, her weatherbeaten skin withered like that of an overripe apple. Her nose was a hawk’s beak, her small eyes sharp as she scanned the room.

Her dress hung off her shoulders — no womanly curves for her — and her headscarf was devoid of the customary decorative fringe and embroidered edging. It was rusty black, embellished only with a few forlorn woollen tassels, from under which poked wispy strands of greying hair, all that was left of what had once been a shimmering black curtain, cloaking her shoulders and curling down her back.

NaF’touma’s past had been full of the worst memories any life can offer — those of  war and loss. At the outbreak of the independence struggle, she had taken up her shotgun and fought like a man with the other moudjahidine. Not for her the role usually carved out for women in the maquis — that of a nurse or a cook.

She was not a city-dweller, like those other young girls who had planted bombs in the bustling cafés and ice-cream parlours on the elegant rue d’Isly,  but a highland Berber with the blood of generations of warriors running through her veins.  Her battlefield had been the inhospitable mountains of Kabylie. She had greeted T, when he had ventured back up to the village after the cease-fire, with the words,”Why aren’t you dead…” — leaving the rest of the sentence — “….like all the others?” —unspoken.

I realised that it was important to my mother-in-law that her son’s choice of a bride meet with her aunt’s approval.  I seem to have passed the test with flying colours, as every time I saw her at family weddings during the ensuing years, she would envelop me in a bear hug, thump me on the back and bellow greetings in my ear. She had an irrepressible joie de vivre and lived every day as a gift, something extra she had never expected, but had been given. I think that is why she lived to such a ripe old age. She was a woman of steel, refusing to be beaten down by the years.

There have been many such women of steel in Algeria. Berber women had a reputation for being in the vanguard of any battle alongside their men, and later, when I was to learn more about Algerian history, I became familiar with the stories about the legendary Berber queen, Dihya, called the Kahina, (the Seer), the fabled Tin Hinan, Tuareg Queen of the Campfires, as well as countless heroines who had taken up armed combat to resist the French, like the nineteenth-century Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer.

Dihya had become the war leader of the Berber tribes in the latter part of the seventh century, ferociously opposing the encroaching Arab armies, who had already captured the major Byzantine city of Carthage. Searching for another enemy to defeat, they had been told that the most powerful monarch in North Africa was “the Queen of the Berbers” and accordingly marched into what is now Algeria. The armies fought the Battle of the Camels in the present-day province of Oum el-Bouaghi, and the Arab armies were soundly defeated, only to return four or five years later.

Parallels can be drawn with Boudicca, as Dihya then embarked on a desperate scorched earth campaign. She was finally defeated at Tabarka, near the Tunisian border. According to legend, she died fighting the invaders, sword in hand — a warrior’s death. Other accounts say she committed suicide by swallowing poison rather than be taken by the enemy.

Dihya

While there are no contemporary likenesses of the Kahina, she is often represented in idealised portraits and statues. For Berbers, these serve as confirmation that they, as a people, are strong and will not be conquered or diminished by others, and shows their support for the progressive ideals Dihya represents.

Even less is known about Tin Hinan, the mythical Tuareg Queen of the Campfires. The Berber Tuareg are a matriarchal society, and she was supposed to have been a fourth-century Tuareg queen. Many historians believed that she had not really existed, but her monumental tomb was discovered in the early twentieth century near an oasis over a thousand kilometres south of Algiers. 

Tin Hinan. Photo from Wikipedia

The tomb, of which the walls were decorated with inscriptions in tifinagh, was found to contain the skeleton of a tall woman, belonging to a Mediterranean race, lying on a wooden litter with her head facing east. She was wearing heavy gold and silver jewellery, some of it adorned with pearls. The funerary artefacts found buried with her all date from the third and fourth centuries.

I have already written about Fadhma N’Soumer, who led the Kabyle armed resistance against the French, who were seeking to bring Kabylie under their control in the nineteenth century. She was finally defeated at the Battle of Icherriden, a few kilometres from my husband’s village, in 1857. Once captured by French forces, she was imprisoned until her death six years later. She is known as the Kabyle Joan of Arc.

Fadma N’Soumer. Photo from Wikipedia

Of course, strong Algerian women are not confined to the Berbers, not do they all belong to ancient history. The bravery of the young women who fought during the independence struggle, including Zohra Drif, Djamila Boupacha, Djamila Bouhired, Hassiba Ben Bouali and others, like NaF’touma, cannot be praised enough, even though many of them have been forgotten since. 

But there had been a strangely ambivalent attitude towards women. Externally, the FLN pursued policies that highlighted women’s participation in the war. El Moudjahid, the FLN newspaper, sought to propagate the idea of the female warrior, venerating her as a martyr if she were killed, and extolling her as a linchpin of the independence struggle.

Photo: El Watan

Internally, however, a statement made by an FLN commander best illustrates  attitudes towards women. He said, and I quote: “In an independent Algeria, Muslim women’s freedom will stop at the door of their home. Women will never be equal to men.” The involvement of women in the war effort, especially those who were literate and from an urban environment, sometimes made their often-illiterate male counterparts uncomfortable.

After the war, although their help and support had been vital, women, regardless of their involvement and contributions to the conflict, were forced back into their pre-war subservience by Algeria’s prevailing social, religious, and cultural climate. It was as if they were being told, “Mission accomplished. Thank you for your help. Now get back to your kitchens.”

I have come to the conclusion that if some Algerian men are like this, it’s because Algerian women are strong, resourceful and brave and men find them too assertive, seeking to curtail their development by any means, even by the infamous 1984 Family Code, which reduced women to the statute of minors, to be under the authority of their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons for their whole lives. For me, this male attitude is a betrayal of those heroic Algerian women who have fought for their own freedom and that of their country throughout the centuries.

The cries Algeria’s youth for a profound change must be heard

The cries Algeria’s youth for a profound change must be heard

Professor Abderrahmane Mebtoul, Economist, Expert international. © DR at AP.P

In this long plea where he begins by paying homage to the Algerian youth, Professor Abderrahmane Mebtoul analyses the handicaps, both political and economic, which overwhelm Algeria despite its immense potential. Then projecting himself into the perspective, he evokes the scenarios of the future and pleads with a lot of arguments and a great conviction, for “an indispensable global reform” (…) by flattening the differences through dialogue and consultation. 

So, here is this contribution from PR Abderrahmane Mebtoul, Economist, International Expert as posted on AFRICAPRESSE. PARIS on March 5, 2019, in French.

The strong mobilization of 22 February and 1st March implies a good analysis of the aspirations of civil society. Certainly not the rentier living in the salons, but the one that we saw on the street, the youth who does not want to be recovered.

The lesson given to the leader of the Workers’ Party, which was booed, should serve as lessons. At a time when the world is experiencing political, social and economic upheavals, where Algeria is being challenged by some 70% of its population claiming genuine democratic reforms – a condition of harmonious and sustainable development in the face of the relentless globalization – we must pay a great homage to our youth who have not experienced the drama of the years 1990-1999, and yet want a change.

Let us salute its political maturity and peaceful marches without violence, where political parties in all tendencies have played no role in mobilizing. Let us also salute our security forces who have managed in a modern way these events which must be meditated profoundly by the parties of power and their satellites – weakly representative, not to say non-representative – as well as by any of the opposition, which was off-track.

A partisan system disconnected from the society

According to some sources, the number of political parties is approaching sixty, often with unnatural alliances, whereas in democratic countries these alliances are made by ideological affinity and a clear programme.

Also, except for ten of them, the others show a formal and ostentatious presence in the elections… Furnishing the emptiness, powerless almost always to act on the course of things and to articulate clearly the concerns and aspirations of the real society.

Because of the internal crises that periodically shake them, the discredit that strikes the majority of them, the defiance of them and the partisan activism, the current political formations today have a low capacity to carry out a work of mobilization and efficient management, to contribute significantly to the political socialising, and thus to make an effective contribution to the work of national recovery.

As proof, the last parliamentary elections, both 2012 and 2017: considering the null and official data of the Ministry of the Interior, the 3/4 of the Algerian population are not represented by the elected officials.

The discredit which strikes political groups, both from the power and from the opposition, must give way to credible, non-artificially created formations, subject therefore to the possibility of an objective assessment of the status and role which must be theirs in a society that aspires to join the ranks of democratic societies. These formations will have to be more capable of mobilizing society than in the years to come, reforms – long deferred to guarantee a fictitious, transient social peace – will be very painful.

An atomized civil society with an informal dominant

Civil society in Algeria is shattered. Contrary to the accepted and illusory ideas of past years, in a context of social disintegration and “satellite TV” youth, most official religious brotherhoods have less and less impact.

On the other hand, the confusion that currently prevails in the national association movement makes it difficult to devise a strategy to take into account and mobilize it. Its diversity, the politico-ideological currents that pass through it and its complex relationship to society and the State add to this confusion and make imperative an urgent reflection for its restructuring, its current state reflecting the major fractures have occurred in the national political system. Thus, it will soon be divided into four fundamentally different civil societies: three at the level of the real sphere and one dominant in the informal sphere.

The most important segment of this civil society, the privileged and often unique interlocutor of the public authorities, is constituted by appendages of power, located on the periphery of the parties in power and whose officials are sometimes deputies, senators, living in large part of the transfer of the rentier annuity. In fact, those who pride themselves on mobilizing millions of voters live in air-conditioned lounges, disconnected from society.

The second segment is that of a civil society frankly rooted in the Islamist movement, with there also appendages of legal Islamic parties.

The third segment is that of a civil society claiming the democratic movement. Poorly structured, despite the relatively large number of associations that comprise it, and undermined by contradictions in relation, among others, with the question of leadership. For these first three civil societies, their impact on the turnout in the last local and legislative elections, despite their accession, was relatively low.

We finally have an informal, unorganized, totally atomized civil society. It is by far the most active and important, as well as we saw on February 22nd and the 1st March 2019, with precise codifications forming a dense mesh.

Without the intelligent integration of this informal sphere – not by authoritarian bureaucratic measures, but by the involvement of society itself – it will not be necessary to rely on a real dynamism of civil society. Because when a state wants to impose its own rules disconnected from social practices, the society has its own rules that allow it to function with its own organizations.

Three scenarios for Algeria from 2019 to 2025

The dynamism of the partisan system and of civil society in order to make it an effective instrument of the framing of forces and a powerful lever of their mobilization is likely to succeed only if the movement that composes it, is not in the service of ambitions personal unmentionable and sometimes dubious.

We can foresee the different scenarios possible depending on the state of the power relations at the internal level, considering the evolution of the strategy of the actors at the external level.

The first scenario: failure of the reform process.

The conditions of failure are real and combined in the legal and economic environment in case of lack of visibility and coherence in the economic and social approach. Risk accentuated by the annuitants at the internal level and certain segments of external actors maintaining informal relations and who are not interested in deepening the reforms (loss of contracts in case of transparent tender notices).

On the other hand, the ambiguity of legal texts allows for the legal blockade of reforms, while the multiplicity of speakers allows for the confusion of prerogatives. Other parameters contributing to the risk of failure: the fragility of internal private investment capacity, stabilization plans that have made forced savings to the detriment of the average layers that have impoverished; the mistrust generated by internal and external investors through continual changes in legislation, while the stability must be rigorous; populist speeches on account settlements on the sensitive subject of taxation, and finally the high pressure of a fraction of the internal and external actors linked to the interests of the annuity, that to preserve protectionist postures because the liberalisation Destroyed a fraction of the annuity.

The second scenario is the status quo.

It would lead to the regression for both social and physical, the world being in perpetual motion. This hypothesis will prepare the conditions of failure by imputing the current social conditions (poverty and unemployment) to reforms, which, except macroeconomic stabilization, are timid in Algeria (microeconomic and institutional reforms, Issues of future years), or to technical bodies while petrol is the absence of political will (neutralization of power relations).

This status quo will participate in a programmed failure and would be suicidal for the future of the economy and Algerian society. This is maintained by the confusion of some concepts assimilating false reforms to the sale of national heritage.

Thus, according to the proponents of this analysis, the reforms would be dictated by the major global oil companies, the IMF and the World Bank. A posture reminding us of the Times of the Inquisition against those who advocated the market economy and the establishment of democracy.

The third scenario is the success of solidarity-specific political and economic reforms as contained in the legal, economic and political environment of Algeria, thanks to a youth increasingly aware of the country’s future issues.

The rupture of the previous system, in view of historical experiences, only occurred through violent but short-lived revolutions. Successful experiences have shown that the gradualist pathway inserting the Conservatives into a reformist dynamic has involved a profound redevelopment of the structures of power and new people acquired in the reforms with cultural demystification, the devastating rumours in the opinion are only the translation of the weakness of the communication system, especially in Algeria where the oral route is predominant.

There is, therefore, therefore, an urgent need for close cooperation between the supporters of the reforms, the political parties, the associations and, in general, all civil society, the administration, public and private enterprises, the collectives of Workers, trade unions, flattening differences through dialogue and consultation.

The goal will be to make the strategic objective emerge through a symbiosis of individual interests and collective interest, showing that the medium-term winners of the reforms will be more numerous than the short-term losers.

The support of external actors for their interests in order to avoid the negative effects of the Destabilisation, but above all the mobilisation of the favorable internal actors because no country can make the reforms in our place, the fate of Algeria is in the hands of Algerian and Algerian.

Algeria, an indispensable actor for Euro-Mediterranean and African stability, can lead to a process of inseparable reforms of a profound democratisation of its society. In the business world, feelings do not exist, only reforms will allow economic growth and the reduction of the nagging problems of unemployment and poverty. Any obstacle to these reforms only decreases the rate of growth, increases the country’s insecurity and, Over there, contributes to social and political destabilization. Time being money, any delay in the process of reforms could result in more important social costs that could be supported by the most disadvantaged.

A strategic vision to surpass a multifaceted crisis

It is time to have foresight in the medium and long term, in order to correct the mistakes of the past, like navigating on sight by ignoring the aspirations of society.

The strategic question is: shall we go towards a real salutary change by reorganizing society, due to the global geostrategic upheavals announced between 2019-2025-2030 or, thanks to the passive distribution of the annuity, shall we simply replaster, postponing the inevitable social tensions?

These are important enough reasons to seriously consider reorganizing the partisan system and civil society so that they can fulfil the function that is them in any democratic political system that reconciles modernity with our authenticity, far from administrative injunctions.

The redesign of the state, including administration, integration of the informal sphere, reforms of financial, fiscal, customs and socio-educational systems, new mechanisms of regulation and social cohesion, optimisation of the effect of public expenditure and the new management of infrastructures based on the rationalization of budget choices… and pose the problem of the future of the Algerian economy so as to reconnect it with growth and, consequently, to alleviate unemployment.

As I have often recalled, in this month of February 2019 – and this is not today – Algeria is going through a crisis of governance, which implies having a strategic vision of the future of Algeria on the 2030 horizon.

Algeria needs for its national and international credibility, geostrategic tensions at the level of the region and the inevitable budgetary tensions between 2019-2020-2025 to bring all its children into their diversity and not to divide us, requiring a minimum of economic and social consensus that could not mean unanimism, a sign of decadence of any society in order to stabilise the social body.

The reforms – beyond the natural resistance of the pensioners – by rehabilitating good governance (the fight against corruption, in concrete terms and not only by legislation) and human capital, are the basis for development. The cries of youth in these months of February and March 2019 for a profound change must be heard so that Algeria can meet the challenges of the 21st century characterized, in this constantly interdependent world, by major geostrategic upheavals in the security, economic, political, social and cultural fields.

Faced with the inevitable budgetary tensions and the geostrategic stakes of 2019-2025-2030, the success of the reforms must be based on four axes: gathering, rebasing of the state, democratisation and economic reforms accommodating economic efficiency and profound social justice.

Nonviolence to Seek Real Political Change

Nonviolence to Seek Real Political Change

Protesters in Algeria use nonviolence to seek real political change

Ghaliya Djelloul, Université catholique de Louvain

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.

Tellingly, Bouteflika is currently reported to be in Switzerland for “medical checks”, even as public opposition to his candidacy intensifies.

Public protests are an unprecedented sight in Algeria, where the regime has violently crushed any form of dissent in recent years. Such was the case during the 1988 “black October” demonstrations followed by a military coup in 1992 and subsequent civil war; the 2001 Kabyle “black spring” in which 160 protesters were reportedly killed; the protests in 2011; and the anti-shale gas movement in 2015.

Despite tensions, a festive atmosphere

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.

Protestors often sing Algerian football songs adjusted for the current situation in Algeria. For more information, see the documentary Babor Casanova, by Karim Sayad (2015).“

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.

Unlike previous protests, events this year have received some domestic coverage – particularly after journalists protested – both in mainstream media as well as private broadcasts. They’re also gaining an international audience, with support from the Algerian diaspora in Paris, Montreal, Geneva and other cities.

Is the regime losing its grip?

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.

On Facebook, groups share the post of the satirical newspaper Al Manchar that symbolically invites Algerians to ‘escape’ on the date of the elections.
Facebook

High stakes

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.The Conversation

Ghaliya Djelloul, Sociologue, chercheuse au Centre interdisciplinaire d’études de l’islam dans le monde contemporain (IACCHOS/UCL), Université catholique de Louvain

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Masses of Algerians surged through the capital

Masses of Algerians surged through the capital

Aomar Ouali, AP wrote on the March 1, 2019 Washington Post that in Algiers, Algeria, “Masses of Algerians surged through the capital and rallied in other cities Friday against ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term, in an exceptional popular challenge to the country’s secretive leadership”.

Meanwhile, back on January 24, 2019, Mohammad Dawood Sofi produced this write up on the background of such uprising that is in noway exceptionally tied to any particular country. 

Democratic uprisings in MENA and their aftermath

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has become a hotbed of revolt, rebellion, and resentment for the masses who have felt disillusioned with the sociopolitical and economic situations for so long. It all started with Mohammad Bouazizi setting himself on fire, thus providing the much-needed spark that dramatically ignited and inaugurated the popular Arab Spring uprisings that disturbed the political situation, political culture, and security situation across the Arab world.

The command and control of the autocrats experienced a heavy shudder because of these uprisings. Yet, the vigorous discussion and debate about the reasons and causes for these mass protests – coupled with the significance of social media tools, especially modern technology – hitherto searched and researched without rest by academics, experts, think tanks and analysts, remain critical. The reasons range from, among other things, social disorder and political deprivation, or the inept educational system and identity crisis.

Many analysts have linked these popular protests, which were organized, led, and sustained mainly by the youth, with several decades of socio-economic and political deprivation. The powerful dictators in the MENA region faced spontaneous but long in the making anti-government protests and dissent by “youth” who were largely disillusioned because of mounting unemployment and a discouraging political atmosphere.

‘The people want to overthrow the regime’: In professor Mahmood Monshipouri’s view, today’s youth in the Muslim world are more interested in jobs and freedom than the agenda of “Islamic” militants, of using violence to topple autocratic regimes. Indeed, these mass protests were largely apolitical and far from the influence of any particular group or ideology. The unifying slogan al-sha’ab al-sha’ab yuri’d isqat al-nizam (“the people want to overthrow the regime”) has for the first time, since the 1950s, powerfully captured the imagination of the people in the MENA region. Being free of religious iconography and vocabulary, the protesters, especially the youth, did not call in the name of Islam rather chanted “Erhal” (“Leave”) or “Game Over.”

Youth unemployment in the region corresponds to several causes that include, inter alia, demographics; low economic growth; weak economic diversification; inept education systems; urbanization; and poor governance. With the onset of the Arab Spring, one meets a growing political consciousness among the masses, especially young people demanding a new social contract aimed at achieving human dignity, civil rights and social justice through non-violent civil disobedience.

The Dawn of a new era in the MENA region: For Monshipouri, although, it is early to say with certainty that it is the dawn of a new democratic era in the MENA region, specifically after witnessing the developments in Syria, Libya and Yemen. However, “it is evident that the digital protesters have shaken the foundation of the old order, enhancing the prospects for change toward democracy” and universal and inclusive notions of identity such as citizenship.

Social media and information and communication technologies (ICTs) are regarded as the important driving force behind the Arab revolts. Modern technology, for some who overly exaggerate its role, is the only tool capable of bringing social change. Whereas, for others, it is one of the critical tools effective in altering the status quo. Ostensibly, Monshipouri argues that social media and ICTs alone do not bring social change or make revolt possible. Without denying the significance of modern technology, he rightly maintains that the modern technologies “are crucial to organizing, instigating, and upholding nonviolent movements,” nonetheless, it “alone lacks the necessary venom to put an end to authoritarianism.”

Similarly, grievances – political, economic, or social – alone do not bring social change, rather for the revolution(s) to materialize an intensive collective effort is necessarily required. However, as a new form of protests embodying online activism, the internet and social media, gave the protesters a significant and effective platform to break their silence, generate a healthy discussion, give updates about new programs, mobilize the masses and organize protests. Social media, as has been rightly highlighted by one famous scholar, “gave substantive, symbolic and organizational force to the revolution.”

The MENA protests and the Green Movement: Ironically, there are very few attempts that relate, connect, and find similarities between the Green Movement of Iran and the 2010/11 Uprisings in the MENA region. For instance, Ray Takeyh in his piece published in The Washington Post while trying to connect the two public protest movements asserts that the Green Movement was not so much a catalyst but rather a harbinger of the new momentous democratic uprisings in the MENA region. In 2009, Iran witnessed a huge wave of social movement, known as the Green Movement – a solid opposition movement against the former President Ahmadinejad led by Mir Hossein Mousavi that arose after Iran’s contested presidential elections.

However, the origins of the Green Movement are to be found in the mowj-e-sabz (the green wave). Prior to the 2009 presidential elections, the color green was visible everywhere in Iran including on the streets and cars, and large segments of the people and even websites of the Iranian bloggers were painted in green.

Besides containing deep cultural and religious underpinnings, many argue that the color green symbolized protest and dissent. Prompted by contested presidential election results and desire for freedom and expression, the protesters in Iran’s Azadi Square or other places within the country and the protesters in Egypt’s famous Tahrir Square or elsewhere demonstrated almost similar patterns, as both movements were fundamentally demanding legal and political reform.

On the other hand, between the lines, especially noteworthy is to understand the policy of the US because it continues to play the most serious role of external actor and maritime power affecting and/or shaping the dynamics and destiny of the contemporary MENA region.

Historically speaking, the foreign policy of the US toward the MENA region represented conflicting goals – supporting pro-Western and pro-American but authoritarian powers on the one hand and advocating democracy on the other; in other words, US foreign policy navigated between consideration of geopolitical exigencies and the promotion of democracy. For example, in Egypt, it promoted autocracy rather than democracy, especially during the reign of Hosni Mubarak.

The US harbored a similar set of patterns and policy vis-a-vis Tunisia and other countries. Some of the compulsions of the US to support autocrats in the region were to keep away Islamic groups from power, protect its interests in the region, and safeguard its alliance with Israel.

Therefore, the power of the autocratic regimes were strengthened, expanded and reinforced with the US support to better serve the strategic interests of the latter. However, in the midst of popular protests, the policy of the US constantly shifted directions, overtly encouraging the masses and covertly seeking to maintain its ties with loyal allies in power. The US supporting the protests in some places and opposing them elsewhere in fact depended on the size of the protests and who was ruling the country. Given the nature of its relations with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) etc., it was unlikely for the US to advocate regime change in such states.

While the US has maintained cordial and close relations with most of the countries of the MENA region, its relationship with Iran in the post-1979 era, however, has been dominated by anger, hatred and suspicion. As a result, the US has frequently clashed directly with the Islamic Republic of Iran over a number of issues, especially on the latter’s preoccupation with Islamic law.

The enmity between Washington and Tehran: The rivalry between the US and Iran, according to Monshipouri, is more political than technical or legal, following the Iranian Revolution and the fall of the monarchy. Whereas the US heavily attempts to impose its sociopolitical and ethical-cultural norm globally, Iran places its geopolitical interests over and above the former’s global external norms. Similarly, the US lays emphasis on secular modernization, globalization and human rights; Iran insists on religious codes as a source of human dignity and gender identity and therefore places Islamic identity above such considerations. This already polarized relationship witnessed further exacerbation given the context of the nuclear dispute and other events. However, recently the bilateral relations between the US and Iran have taken a new twist, possibly looking for some necessary concessions between the two realities.

In sum, the current US foreign policy is largely concerned with and interested in maintaining the status quo and preserving contemporary power structures in the region. Its major objective, in doing so, is to maintain its power hierarchy in the region and beyond and secure its strategic goals and interests thereof. Therefore, it would do anything and everything to prevent others, especially China and Russia, from replacing or decreasing its influence or from becoming potential hegemons in the MENA region.

Local elections of November 23rd, 2017 (Part II)

Local elections of November 23rd, 2017 (Part II)

Reconcile the State with the Citizen to meet the social demand.

In continuation to our Local elections of November 23rd, 2017 (Part I), here is Part II in which we would try to propose that the non-exhaustive inventory of the daily gloom of the citizen, gives all its strategic meaning to the scientific knowledge of the social environment on which to act and strive towards the ideal of economic efficiency by a better management and social cohesion.

To do this, we must first have the necessary humility to recognize our limits in this area and to consider that “social fluoroscopy” is the first element of a perennial action that tends towards this objective. It is necessary to give primacy to case studies and investigations to establish a real “social mapping” which will have to highlight the specific nature of the problems of each neighbourhood, in urban areas, and of each agglomeration in rural areas.

This is how we will know how to geographically distribute the demand for employment, poverty, precarious living conditions, populations at risk, etc., and that knowledge and data will be available for the implementation of adequate strategies…

How can the public be better welcomed?

The seat of the municipality is the first landmark for the citizen in its judgement on the grandeur of the Republican State.

It is quite clear that the state of dilapidation of the building, the lack of maintenance of open spaces, the holding of officials, the poor reception, can only refer to a negative image of the perception of the concept of the State. In daily practice, whether for a birth certificate or any other document, the misinformed citizen about his rights would be left to himself in the maze of the administration and is tossed from service to service.

When this type of attitude becomes repetitive, it generates a form of divorce between the Citizen and the State very often ending up with a loss of confidence. In this case, the rehabilitation of the Authority and the credibility of the State takes the meaning of a profound change in the reception centres of the public. To achieve this objective, the action will have to focus on three essential elements: man, means of work and the host framework.

  • About the first element, the reception attendants must be selected on the basis of rigorous criteria that refer to loyalty, availability of listening, quality and speed in the performance of a service. These officials, whose material situation must be necessarily improved, should feel involved in the fight that the State will have to take against injustice and the little consideration given to the public service. There is therefore a need for specific training of this staff who must learn to listen, to communicate, to convince, to consider others with courtesy.
  • The second aspect relates to the working conditions of staff members of the local authority, to the painfulness of manual work, to its routineness, to the fatigue that takes shape in the exercise of this function and to the pressure of the public at the wickets level which makes public servants lose their sense of human relations. In this case, the computerization of services and the improvement of comfort takes priority, the purpose of which will be the emergence of a friendly environment conducive to serenity in human relations.
  • The third point concerns the transmission of a positive image of a rigorous state in the management of the public thing, respectful of its people and anxious to serve it better. This image must find its translation into the state of the premises, the treatment of the external spaces, the cleanliness of the services, the reception service and the orientation of the public, the holding of the personnel and in all the elements that allow the citizen to measure the degree of consideration granted to him.

This policy takes the character of an investment for the realization of a user-friendly framework, which facilitates the reconciliation of the state and the citizen and predisposes them to engage together in “partnership” actions of a multifaceted nature, the purpose of which would be better social cohesion.

How to satisfy social demand?

First, it must be considered that the negative effects of visual pilotage which has characterized the management of our municipalities have been largely offset by the massive use of the State as a final contributor. Since this support has diminished, there could only mean re-emergence of problems, and even if the State is no longer able to fully meet all expressed needs, then a better justice in the distribution of means would be of paramount importance in the fairness of social welfare.

But how can one be fair and equitable when one’s knowledge of the environment in which one wants is intuitive and inevitably subjective to understand (1).

In the context of a real decentralization and not de-concentration, the State must ensure that the local authorities, are in full possession of all means and prerogatives to allow their full responsibility for the management of their respective territories, while safeguarding the uniqueness of policies and strategies.

In addition to the recasting of the status of local government, it goes without saying that the new prerogatives which will ensue for the local authority can only be exercised if they are accompanied by a reform of the local finances.

Each local community must have a budget and the autonomy of its use, so that the citizen can judge the capacity of its municipal administration to not only manage its territory of residence but to improve his living conditions. At the same time, the State must safeguard its basic tasks of guaranteeing everything that constitutes the interests of the national community (cohesion and social justice, safeguarding public heritage, equal opportunities for the development of all Citizens).

The autonomy of local management can only be exercised in accordance with the policies and strategies implemented by the State, to both regulate and guide the country’s economic and social development, and to help and organise equitable development and good management of all the components of the national space.

The full success of this highly complex process would involve questioning the role up to now of the State and its articulation with the market in its future socio-economic strategy, which refers to the mode of governance of both local and international matters.

Let us learn from all those social tensions that manifest themselves through most provinces. There is a dialectic link between security and development, of course of multidimensional development. It is imperative that social and cultural factors must be considered to achieve genuine decentralization by posing the problem of economic regionalisation, which will foster a more participatory society and Citizen.

Let us hope the end of demagogic speeches, that is with the revolution of the telecommunications, would be far away from any local and global realities. Let us recognize a slow cultural change on the part of the government in the face of the drastic fall in the hydrocarbons not only in prices but most importantly in their future utilization.

The set of actions mentioned above would imply a harrowing review of the current socio-economic policy which must be based on good governance not only based on Rule of Law, but on the knowledge economy and wealth and jobs creating entrepreneurs.

The objective is to promote a participatory and civic society through the restructuring of the parti system as well as civil society as a powerful mobilization network in order to avoid the direct confrontation of citizens and security forces.

These actions which are based on a strategic vision (hence the importance of a strategic planning body under the authority of the President of the Republic or the Prime Minister and why not a Ministry of State so as to give it more authority) and must be part of a government-wide reorganization around large ministries, including Economics / Education / Scientific Research, as well as territories administration.

This latter must be based on economic regionalisation, not to be confused with the harmful avatar of regionalism around regional socio-economic poles bringing together universities and regional research centers with the best competencies at the helm. Banks, public and private enterprises and representative of local economic and social organizations. The administration will have to play the role of regulator to remove all bureaucratic obstacles by promoting the development of creative energies.

Local elections of November 23rd, 2017 (Part II)

Local elections of November 23rd, 2017 (Part II)