A second Arab Spring appears to be happening in the Middle East as Abdelaziz Bouteflika was pushed out as president of Algeria, and Omar Bashir was reportedly forced to step down in Sudan on Thursday. Mass protests in both countries forced the 82-year-old and 75-year-old men from power. They had both been in power since the 1990s.
Now that they are being shown the exit, there will be questions about whether the protests have wider ramifications for the region. In both protests, women have played a major role and young people are excited again.
However, the region’s media and the other authoritarian regimes are frightened. Since the original Arab Spring in late 2010, there has been a massive crackdown in almost every country on protests. This is one thing that unites the different alliance-blocs, whether it’s Iran or Saudi Arabia or Qatar and Turkey. No protests means no leaders leaving office.
We can see this in the various authoritarian tendencies in the region, whether it’s Turkey seeking to remove tens of thousands of civil servants after the 2016 coup attempt, or Saudi Arabia claiming to reform but then arresting activists, or Iran crushing opposition protests. No more chaos and instability is the narrative.
But in Sudan and Algeria, the result of the protests has not been a real change to democracy or inclusive political systems. Instead, the army stepped in. In Algeria, an ally of Bouteflika has been brought in to deal with things until a July 4 poll. Will this mean that both these countries merely replace one authoritarian regime with another? Will the security services and army, fearful of change, simply change the curtains, but keep the house?
The wider ramifications illustrate that the demands of young people are not being met. In a region where a whole new generation is already coming of age almost a decade since the Arab Spring, large numbers of people who were 10 years old during the Tahrir Square protests but are now 18 will be asking new questions of their leaders. Will they look to Sudan and Algeria for inspiration? They may not.
One reason that Algeria and Sudan may have less impact than the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia in 2011 is that neither of these countries are at the heart of the Arab world. Egypt’s 2011 revolution, and the second revolution in 2013 that removed the Muslim Brotherhood from power, were important because Egypt is important. It’s one of the traditional centers of the Middle East and the home of Al-Azhar University, a center of learning, media and power. Sudan has a population of 40 million and a GDP of $117 billion while Algeria has 41 million and a $170b. GDP, while Egypt’s population is more than both combined, and its GDP is $235b.
The apparent fall of Bashir could unleash some instability in the Horn of Africa. This matters because Sudan is part of a series of countries that are of great importance to Turkey and Saudi Arabia. There is investment in the region near Sudan due to its proximity to the war in Yemen. This means Iran cares what happens in Sudan as well.
In 2016, Sudan expelled the Iranian ambassador. But Iran has also used Sudan as a conduit for weapons smuggling in the past. Hamas used to have representation there as well. Some changes may be in the air after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Chad in January of this year. Thus, what happens in Sudan also impacts Israel and the Palestinian sphere. People will be watching to see what comes next.
Seth Frantzman is The Jerusalem Post’s op-ed editor, a Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a founder of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.