The ongoing street demonstrations in Algeria and Sudan and the
high-level changes in leadership they have sparked include political
developments that are very different from the Arab Uprisings of 2010-11
(the so-called “Arab Spring”). We should watch two dynamics, in
particular, to find out if this is genuinely a historic moment of
change, or another re-run of previous uprisings and some toppled leaders
of Arab authoritarian states that did not fundamentally change how
power is exercised or how citizens are treated.
The two dynamics
to watch are: 1) the demonstrators’ insistence that the entire political
leadership and its security appendages be removed or reformed, rather
than just deposing the president; and that they be replaced by a
civilian authority to assume power across the government, without any
disproportionate role for the military and security agencies in
governance; and, 2) the early discussions about holding accountable
those across the power structure, and not just in government, that
should be charged with crimes against the citizenry, abuse of power, war
crimes, or crimes against humanity.
These dynamics represent an important new dimension to Arab popular rebellions against authoritarian rule; they are being implemented to some degree already, and should not be brushed aside as romantic wishes of naive young men and women. In the last two weeks, in both countries, demonstrators and citizens at home who support them have learned to focus the immense immediate energy of their collective power on the one issue that has been the single most important impediment to decent governance and sustainable and equitable human development in the Arab region over the past half century: the absolute power of military and security officers who seized executive authority in Arab countries starting as early as the 1936 coup by General Bakr Sidqi in Iraq and the 1952 coup in Egypt led by Gamal Abdel Nasser and fellow officers.