By Khalid Bhatti
April 12, 2019
Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the long-time ruler of Algeria has been ousted by a mass movement. Millions of students, peasants, workers, women and impoverished showed courage, determination and revolutionary zeal to face the might of the Algerian state and Bouteflika regime.
Two public-sector general strikes, several local and regional strikes and struggles created a situation in which Bouteflika was forced to resign. But the people are still on the streets in Algeria not only to celebrate the victory and triumph but also to keep the pressure on the regime to accept their demands.
It all started with students’ protests in February but quickly spread to workers and other segments of the Algerian population. It was undoubtedly the biggest movement in Algerian history since the 1962 independence movement.
This is not happening in isolation in Algeria alone. Other countries in North Africa have also witnessed renewed protests, strikes and struggles by the people in recent months.
Protests have continued in Sudan for the last five months – leading to the ouster of Omar al-Bashir. Nearly one million public-sector workers were on strike in January in Tunisia. Morocco too has seen strikes by school teachers and hospital workers. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in Yemen in anti-war protests. The Saudi led war in Yemen has caused unimaginable destruction, and the extreme hunger, poverty and starvation has put the lives of millions of people, including children, elderly and women in danger.
It seems that Arab Spring 2.0 has just begun. The events in Algeria are clearly indicating that people in many countries are on the move again. How far and long this phase of Arab Spring could last is difficult to predict but one thing can be said with confidence: Arab masses have made a strong comeback and have lost their fear of brutal force and repression by regimes.
The Arab Spring in 2010-11 was triggered by the Tunisian people who forced long-time dictator Ben Ali to resign. The Egyptian masses followed and ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak. Muammar Qaddafi of Libya and Saleh of Yemen were also forced out by mass uprisings.
Dictators and authoritarian rulers in North Africa and Arab world have failed to learn any lessons from Arab Spring in 2010-11. They used the example of the counter-revolution in Egypt and civil wars in Libya, Yemen and Syria to create the impression that their presence was necessary to keep stability in their countries. This propaganda did work for a while but collapsing living standards, worsening economic and social conditions and increased repression forced the people to once again take to the streets.
Most of these authoritarian rulers ignored the demands for economic reforms and democratic rights. They made several promises and pledges during the Arab Spring but failed to implement them in the last eight years. They thought that the movements had receded so they could delay the reforms. In this, they completely underestimated the changing mood and brewing anger.
Nothing has change for the working people there in the last eight years. The same repression, authoritarian regimes, economic hardships, poverty, unemployment, rising cost of living and stagnant wages exist in most countries. The young educated people see no hope and future. Rampant corruption, cronyism, nepotism and colonial structures have hindered the social mobility of the people. The same economic and social conditions exist in these countries which triggered the mass uprisings and mass movements in 2010-11.
Omar al-Bashir of Sudan did everything possible to crush the protest movement since December 2018. But he failed. The repression, brutal use of force and state-sponsored violence in which more than 50 people lost their lives and thousands were arrested and tortured failed to stop the mass movement from developing on the streets.
The protest movement has torn apart the regime. The army which was solidly behind Al-Bashir too backed out. The police refused to open fire at the protest camp outside the defence ministry building to disperse the protestors. The army even ended up protecting the protesters from the attacks of armed pro-regime militia linked to Omar al-Bashir.
The courage, sacrifices, determination and willingness of the Sudanese people have inspired many in the region. Their months-long struggle has inspired students, workers, radicalised layers of middle class including doctors, teachers and traders.
Even though the international media has largely chosen to ignore this important struggle, it definitely has had an impact in the region.
Khalid Bhatti is a freelance journalist.