Rev­o­lu­tions be­trayed: Al­ge­ria's upris­ing

The Africa Report - - FEATURES - By NI­CHOLAS NORBROOK

It is of­ten a mis­take to read too far across from one coun­try to an­other. But Al­ge­ria shares many of the same lines as Su­dan: a politico-mil­i­tary elite en­trenched in the econ­omy, a well-ed­u­cated pro­fes­sional class will­ing to go the hard yards in protest, a national al­liance of cit­i­zens from many strata and ge­ogra­phies will­ing to take to the streets in non-vi­o­lent protests.

Both coun­tries forced out a pres­i­dent, with Al­ge­ria's Ab­de­laziz Boute­flika ejected on 2 April af­ter sev­eral months of pres­sure.

Both coun­tries have seen a mil­i­tary man take charge, and in Al­ge­ria it is Ahmed Gaïd Salah now pulling the strings be­hind the scenes.

Al­ge­ri­ans re­mem­ber the bloody civil wars of the 1990s well; some think it is used to si­lence them. “Rather 1,000 years of tyranny than a minute of an­ar­chy,” as the scholar Al-mâwardi said in the 11th cen­tury.

Al­ge­ria's revo­lu­tion is play­ing out as much more of a do­mes­tic af­fair, with lit­tle in­ter­na­tional en­gage­ment. And the strong Al­ge­rian security state does not have the same his­tory as Su­dan's, so it is less ex­posed to in­ter­na­tional pres­sures. Salah wanted a quick tran­si­tion in July (see page 14) with as few con­ces­sions about the role of the security ser­vices as pos­si­ble. But the street has not abided, de­mand­ing thor­ough­go­ing re­forms to the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and plung­ing the coun­try into months more un­cer­tainty. In the end, will the peace­ful protesters be able to keep up the pres­sure to make the se­curo­crats re­lent and loosen their grip on the levers of state?

parachute reg­i­ment; the Rapid Sup­port Forces (RSF), the for­mer pro-regime Jan­jaweed mili­tia that at­tacked op­po­si­tion­ists in Dar­fur; and the National In­tel­li­gence and Security Ser­vices (NISS), the spy or­gan­i­sa­tion with its own armed units, tanks and he­li­copters, busi­nesses, and net­work of sleeper agents.

Lower ranks in the mil­i­tary had been hit badly by Su­dan’s crash­ing econ­omy. Despite spend­ing about 60% of the bud­get on security, Bashir’s regime was not look­ing af­ter its sol­diers. Fight­ers in the RSF mili­tia, com­manded by Gen­eral Mo­hamed Ham­dan ‘Hemeti’ Da­galo, earned about twice what the reg­u­lar sol­diers got.

To raise rev­enue and shore up re­la­tions with its Gulf al­lies, Bashir had sent out sol­diers from the army and the RSF to do much of the se­ri­ous fight­ing in the Ye­men war, along­side Saudi Ara­bian and United Arab Emi­rates (UAE) forces. So bad was the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion that the RSF forces, which con­trolled a gold­mine in Dar­fur, had taken to air­lift­ing gold to sell in Dubai for hard cur­rency to boost Khar­toum’s for­eign re­serves. Hemeti and sev­eral army gen­er­als con­cluded that Bashir was los­ing control of both the econ­omy and national security, but few of the com­man­ders trusted each other.

The turn­ing point came on 8 April when plain-clothes mili­tia men started fir­ing on the sit-in. Sol­diers streamed out of the de­fence head­quar­ters, returned fire and pro­tected the civil­ians. They opened the main gates to the com­pound, telling the protesters to shelter there.

No one was sure of how Salah Ab­dal­lah Gosh, head of the NISS and off-on ally of Bashir’s, would re­act. Ini­tially, some of his of­fi­cers had at­tacked the protesters. Ab­dal­lah now claims, ac­cord­ing to his con­fi­dants, that he played a de­ci­sive role by open­ing a bridge to al­low more people into the sit-in area and that he re­jected Bashir’s com­mand to shoot enough civil­ians to break up the protests. Hemeti tells a sim­i­lar ver­sion about his own stand-off with Bashir. Sud­denly, every­one wants to claim credit for the revo­lu­tion.

By the evening of 10 April, the top security chiefs con­fronted Bashir. Hours later, mar­tial mu­sic was play­ing ahead of a much-delayed broad­cast from Gen. Awad Ibn Ouf, con­firm­ing the over­throw of Bashir and the set­ting up of a new mil­i­tary coun­cil to run Su­dan. Gen. Ibn Ouf didn’t last the day as junta leader. He was re­placed by the less dour Gen. Burhan, and Ab­dul­lah was dismissed as NISS di­rec­tor.

The ri­val­ries in the security sys­tem may have forced out the com­man­der-in-chief, but they were far from re­solved. “The army doesn’t trust the RSF and nobody trusts the NISS,” a for­mer in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer told The Africa Report. “Their fight is about control of re­sources as much as pol­i­tics.”

State of dis­in­te­gra­tion

While the world watched the drama and mar­velled at the nov­elty of a Su­danese leader hold­ing an open press con­fer­ence, some dis­creet vis­i­tors had touched down in their re­spec­tive pri­vate jets on the morn­ing af­ter Bashir’s re­moval. They were mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence chiefs from Egypt, UAE, Saudi Ara­bia and Qatar. Some say the Qatari of­fi­cial was turned away, al­though Doha de­nies this.

What is cer­tain is the warm wel­come for the en­voys of Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah al-sisi and the crown princes of Saudi and UAE, both of whom want to keep Su­dan in the Ye­men war. Pres­i­dent Sisi wants to head off any demo­cratic wave in the re­gion. “This is not Egypt” was a com­mon chant at the sit-in – re­fer­ring to Sisi’s seizure of power in Cairo, fol­lowed by his se­cur­ing elec­tion as a civil­ian pres­i­dent.

The po­lit­i­cal and fi­nan­cial pay-off came quickly. The Khar­toum junta wel­comed UAE’S and Saudi’s of­fer of a $3bn fi­nan­cial pack­age “to sta­bilise the national econ­omy.” A $500m down pay­ment went into Khar­toum’s cen­tral bank in April with­out any sub­stan­tial im­prove­ment in eco­nomic con­di­tions. Trips to the Gulf States by junta lead­ers Burhan and Hemeti in late May were swiftly fol­lowed by the deadly RSF at­tacks on civil­ian protesters.

There was a time when people were de­bat­ing eco­nomic re­cov­ery pro­grammes and com­pa­nies were sup­port­ing the protests in what some called a “brand­ing car­ni­val”. When asked what all this meant for the tran­si­tion to civil­ian rule a clan­des­tine ac­tivist sur­veyed the grow­ing ri­val­ries be­tween the security clans and replied: “That’s ir­rel­e­vant now […] what people are now look­ing at is the dis­in­te­gra­tion of the state.”

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