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Traps lying Ahead of Democracy in Africa

The second wave of popular uprisings in the Arab countries has emerged in Algeria, Sudan, and Tunisia in ۲۰۱۹ in the form of continuous peaceful protests. The Arab protesters , learning from the bitter experiences of the first wave of the uprisings , dubbed by the westerners as the Arab spring, in addition to efforts to topple the despotic rulers, are pursuing to change the authoritarian regimes and reform the defective structures governing their countries. The peaceful but protesting behavioral change of the people in these three countries suggests that these headless movements are not necessarily witless and despite all domestic and external traps that lie in the tumultuous way of democracy in the north of Africa, a common sense learned from the rich religious, cultural and historic teachings, guides their overall behavior in a less faulty way compared to the first wave.
November 2020
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Mohammad Nik-Khah

The second wave of popular uprisings in the Arab countries has emerged in Algeria, Sudan, and Tunisia in 2019 in the form of continuous peaceful protests. The Arab protesters , learning from the bitter experiences of the first wave of the uprisings , dubbed by the westerners as the Arab spring, in addition to efforts to topple the despotic rulers, are pursuing to change the authoritarian regimes and reform the defective structures governing their countries. The peaceful but protesting behavioral change of the people in these three countries suggests that these headless movements are not necessarily witless and despite all domestic and external traps that lie in the tumultuous way of democracy in the north of Africa, a common sense learned from the rich religious, cultural and historic teachings, guides their overall behavior in a less faulty way compared to the first wave.

Although north Africa has been on the path of political developments in recent years, but regarding the pitfalls and problems lying ahead of democracy , there is a risk of going astray.

In 2019 the Arab nations, once again, challenged and toppled the authority of their old leaders who have been in power for two or three decades, in peaceful protests. This time around, these nations were not only demanding the overthrow of the despotic governments, but also pursuing change of their authoritarian and corrupt regimes. The first step in the path is not-accepting the domination of the military over the government , and the second step is awareness to interferences from the regional and international powers. The Egyptian experience can be a warning to the Egyptian people as well as the countries of Algeria, Sudan, and Libya not to underestimate their militaries authority.

Popular uprisings in the region have had the aim of reaching criteria like freedom, democracy , political-economic  reforms and civil society, but eventually in cases, contrary results have been brought about and none of these countries has achieved a betterment of its domestic situation , and not only have these countries not achieved any political and economic success , but also, on the contrary, deeply ingrained ethnic, religious schisms have reemerged , consequently, the security and stability experienced in the time of the ousted rulers, too, has disappeared . Events like the civil war in Syria in the last 9 years is a bitter experience.

Roles played by powers from the region and beyond in competition for grabbing power, have pushed people away from their goals and changed many regional equations. The complex Libyan crisis is an example of these interferences. Taking power by the army in some countries like Sudan and Egypt has led astray the popular protests, and peaceful protests as a constructive strategy with least costs not only has the ability to counter oppression by the governments but also they are necessary ingredients for establishing democracy.

Nonviolent strategies like civil disobedience or protests need constant mobilization of the people at the first stage to insure the democratic process after bringing down despotic rulers and establish democracy in the long term; As the awareness of the people in Algeria, and Sudan to having ahead a long and complete process after the overthrow of Bouteflika and Al-Basjir is necessary and introducing the new leaders from inside the old system reminisces of the Egyptian scenario.

Also, there is no potential in these countries to reject all internal and external interferences, especially military intervention, without being deceived by foreign powers and solely by reliance on themselves, and to avoid the destruction occurred in Libya and Syria.

Outcomes of the popular uprisings in the Arab states in 2011 which were named the Arab Spring , showed that the dictatorships slipping and governments falling in the middle east do not necessarily result in a civil society and establishment of democracy. Taking lessons from the failed experiences of these popular uprisings in the middle east and north Africa and results obtained by them can open the way for the protesters in north Africa  for achieving democracy and fundamental reforms.

In the first wave, the Arab Spring faced five basic challenges. Despite falling dictatorships like Gaddafi in Libya, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Ben Ali in Tunisia and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen in the first wave, in practice, not only did these countries not taste freedom and  better living conditions, but also had to grapple with the dire consequences including disruption of the old order in the regional states, spread of insecurity and instability, civil wars, people getting poorer and in cases coups. Events like the Syrian civil war, the Libyan crisis, the Yemen war, the coup in Egypt, and emergence of radical ,ideologicaland anti-establishment groups like ISIS the Nusra Front and proxy wars exacerbated the regional  insecurity and brought with them the interference of other powers.

In the second wave of the fledgling democracy in north Africain 2019, which began following the so called Arab spring in Sudan and Algeria,  this time in their peaceful protests, the Arab nations are not only challenging and overthrowing the authority of leaders with two or three decades in power, but also it seems that this time, learning from the dire consequences of the first wave, are not merely  pursuing toppling despotic governments, but also asking for change of their authoritarian and corrupt regimes. The first step  is, non-acceptance of the former regimes' corrupt administrators and preventing the military from dominating the government, and the second step is being aware ofthe interferences by the powers from the region and beyond that are still trying to keep their interests by exercising their influence, sowing division, and empowering or keeping their dependent elements in power. The thing that must be noted in both steps is differentiating between national heroes and the opportunists and preserving the main pillars of the country. As an example, the Algerian armyis one of the most heroic and revolutionary armies in the Muslim world and the region in countering colonialism and their manufactured cronies like Zionism and terrorism. Fighting the penetrators and opportunists or commanders who have become corrupt over the course of time and preventing these elements from entering the political arena must not lead to marginalization and loss of this valuable national asset.

In the second wave, even after the fall of the authoritarian leaders, there have been constant efforts, each week,  by the protesters to reform and change the political structures, and the people in Sudan, Tunisia, and Algeria are markedly trying in this way.

In Tunisia which was at the spearhead of the first wave and general protests by the people in 2011 caused Bin Ali's fall , the experience teaches that the protests must be followed up with until a responsive and transparent system is achieved. This means the people should establish a rational relation between their short termed demands like overthrow of the political system and long termed demands like stability, a better future and security.

In Sudan, the Egyptian case, has taught people that taking over power by the military and keeping it for a long time can lead to recreation of the past dictatorship and corruption and destroy the success of toppling Al-Bashir.

Taking a page from the same textbook, the Algerian people are bent on forcing Bouteflika to stepping down, and each week have taken to the streets to gradually remove the remains  of the former government and scale down the military presence in the government, and as much as possible, make a new constitution for the country.

All these changes in the peaceful protesting behavior in the three north African states in the second wave of protests herald the fact that these headless movements are not necessarily witless, and despite all internal and external traps lying ahead of the tumultuous way of democracy in the north of Africa, a common sense learned from the rich religious, cultural and historical teachings, guides their overall behavior in a less faulty way compared to the first wave.

   (The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)

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