Content from the Brookings Doha Center is now archived. In September 2021, after 14 years of impactful partnership, Brookings and the Brookings Doha Center announced that they were ending their affiliation. The Brookings Doha Center is now the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, a separate public policy institution based in Qatar.
The Brookings Doha Center (BDC) in partnership with Al Jazeera Center for Studies hosted a panel discussion on June 18th, 2019 on recent uprising developments in the MENA region, comparing and contrasting them with the beginnings of the 2011 Arab Spring. The panelists focused on the popular movements in Algeria and Sudan, assessing their potential for peaceful transitions of power and what such transitions would require. They noted that while regime change has the potential to lead to renewed prosperity, a plethora of concerns have materialized. In Sudan, civilian rule does not seem to be on the horizon. And in Algeria, there are worries that deep state will successfully circumvent the hopes for a democratic government. Panelists expressed hope that these movements are generating successful momentum but urged them to learn the lessons provided by the successes and failures of the previous Arab Spring.
The panel consisted of a group of distinguished scholars and experts, including: Abdelwahab El Affendi, dean of the School of Social Sciences and Humanities at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies; Haoues Taguia, researcher for the Al Jazeera Centre for Studies; and Shafeeq Ghabra, professor of political science at Kuwait University. Shibley Telhami, a nonresident senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy of the Brookings Institution, was scheduled as part of the panel via video link but was unable to participate due to technical difficulties. Salem Almahrokey, a presenter at Al Jazeera Mubasher Channel, moderated the event. Members of Doha’s diplomatic, academic, and media communities attended the event.
Abdelwahab El Affendi began the discussion with an analysis of the current Sudanese political climate. He claimed that the Sudanese revolution is in a critical phase, particularly with the momentum gained after recent attacks on military demonstrations. He denounced those trying to replace the current military with separate-foreign militias, arguing that those who believe the military is weak instead need to support it. He believes that certain elements of the protests resemble the protests in Egypt and other Arab Spring countries. He asserted that it is of paramount importance that the Sudanese people set aside their differences and seek a solution to the problem. In light of the precarious situation in the country, he continued, polarization within the population needs to be mitigated. That being said, he claimed that the people of Sudan are quite optimistic that the protests will ultimately prove successful.
Haoues Taguia continued the panel by discussing the potential for a democratic revolution in Algeria. He began by noting the ways the Algerians are distancing themselves from parallels to the Arab Spring, which they generally believe to be unsuccessful, avoiding the term “protest” in favor of “popular movement.” He noted that the Algerian movement has remained peaceful, unlike Sudan. He indicated that the large number of people that have taken to the streets has helped legitimize the movement. Taguia added that the peaceful nature of the Algerian protests has encouraged people from all walks of life to participate, particularly women. That being said, the absence of large sit-ins has allowed those in power in the country to dig in their heels and delay elections. He argued that another cause of stagnation in Algeria is that there is a lack of leadership within the popular movement. He said that this is a problem also present in Sudan. Taguia concluded by providing recommendations for the current movement, urging a diversifying of demonstrations from solely marches to sit-ins and civil disobedience, as has been seen in Sudan. He also advocated for the creation of a leadership structure that can assure the existence of a body that can take power when the regime falls.
Shafeeq Ghabra continued the discussion by considering the possibility that the Sudanese and Algerian developments, as well as others in the region, indicate that a second Arab Spring is on the edge. He noted that the people of MENA countries need to reject the choice that their leaders impose upon them: that the only options are their leadership or chaos; their leadership or internal divisions. He claimed that densely populated countries and oppressive regimes constitute prisons for many Arab people, much as circumstances did in 2011. While there is an overwhelming desire for an exit among many, Ghabra argued that this does not necessarily mean a fall of nations. Instead, movements like those in Algeria and Sudan can create pressure for reforms that allow dialogue, allow regimes to slowly become more democratic. He emphasized that in the violent alternatives to this, civil wars, everyone loses, and that if these revolutions don’t succeed, they will ultimately lead to failed states.
The subsequent question and answer session focused on the important elements of successful revolutions, the consequences of weak leadership, and the uncertainty of the future of other MENA countries. El-Affendi argued that change requires unity: leaders do not fall without popular support for the movements that depose them. That being said, unity post-revolution is difficult to achieve. In response to another question, Taguiba noted that in the case in Algeria, the regime has depicted those participating in the protest movements as partners, which has caused embarrassment for the individuals interested in stepping up to a leadership role. Finally, Ghabra emphasized that the future of regimes in other MENA countries is unpredictable. This unpredictability, he continued, is compounded by a shifting world order that features the rise of China and the potential decline of the United States.