Revolutions betrayed: Algeria's uprising
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.”