AJCS/BDC Seminar: Future of the Arab Open-ended Uprisings

23 June 2019
From left to right: Al Jazeera presenter Salem Almahroukey, Abdelwahab El-Affendi, Haoues Taguia, and Shafeeq Ghabra [AlJazeera]

In a joint research seminar hosted by Al Jazeera Centre for Studies, Brookings Doha Center, and Al Jazeera Mubasher on 18 June 2019 in Doha, panelists asserted that the future belongs to Arab popular movements demanding freedom and change despite obstacles. They also indicated that this shift would require the expansion of political participation to help create a main trend that gratifies these demands without exclusion or marginalization. The panelists hinted that history in the region has begun to shift from tyranny to democracy; and results will not come quickly or all at once, but will accumulate with experience and unification.

Time is in favor of Change Movements
Dr. Shafeeq Ghabra, professor of political science at Kuwait University, explained how the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ revived the Arab citizens’ sense of belonging to their country and that the general course – despite the prisons filled with revolutionaries and the exiles in which they were forced to live – seeks to end tyrannical regimes regardless of how long it may take. “Consonance and the [establishment] of mechanisms of political participation are in the interest of everyone, including the ruling regimes themselves, because the alternative is conflict that will result in loss for everyone,” he asserted. Ghabra also suggested that the Arab Uprisings, whose first wave was initiated by the youth in 2010 and 2011, has gained experience that will enable them to overcome challenges and obstacles that arise without achieving the freedom and change that the peoples’ desire.

Sudan and the Right Lessons
Dr. Abdelwahab El-Affendi, Dean of the School of Social Sciences and Humanities at Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, presented his outlook of the Sudanese current developments, and expressed concern that conditions in the country would lead to a “civil war” affecting the “center” this time after having been limited to the “periphery” in the past. He attributed this shift to the attempts of certain regional powers to hijack the Sudanese military and turn it into “private militias”, which would function according to their agenda and execute their plans; in addition to “the distrust” between the military and the revolutionaries, especially after the bloody break up of sit-ins in front of the General Command in Khartoum at the end of Ramadan.

On the most successful way for Sudan to get out of its impasse and avoid dangerous trajectories, El-Affendi said, “The Sudanese need to forget their disputes at this critical time to save Sudan from what is planned for it, and put in effort to expand participation in the revolution and avoid exclusion or marginalization in order to build a unifying national trend that is able to confront both internal and external challenges.”

In his conclusion, El-Affendi suggested the importance of understanding the right lessons from history, stating that everyone is able to derive lessons, but are they “the right lessons or the wrong lessons?” He also suggested the necessity of a reconciliatory approach during the pursuit of democratic transition, and explained “it is best to forget the past and move forward to keep the revolution’s enemies from increasing. If you had asked my opinion, I would have said that it was not suitable to try Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, issue the political isolation law in Libya, or call for the extension of the transition period in Sudan. Sudan does not need the transition period extended as much as it needs constitutional guarantees set by an independent body that is keen to execute them.”

An Algerian Movement on the Rise
AJCS fellow Haoues Taguia addressed a question regarding his expectations for the current Algerian movement, explaining that “the movement succeeded in postponing the elections; but, has yet to achieve a change in the structure of the regime that guarantees that the regime will not be recreated – which resulted in the current regime’s insistence on extending the acting president’s 90 day term, starting an unconstitutional stage in the country.

Taguia highlighted the general characteristics of the Algerian movement, and explained “what distinguishes it most is its pacifism and the size of participation in it, causing violence on the part of security apparatuses unjustified and inefficient.” He also commented on the movement’s success in coercing the authorities to prosecute a number of presumed “untouchable” key figures associated with the previous regime.

Nonetheless, Taguia argued, the movement’s position still fluctuates regarding the thorough transition of authority, which he attributes to the absence of a “civil entity” that represents protestors like the Sudanese Professionals’ Association or the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces for example.

Taguia referred a study conducted by Harvard University on a number of popular revolutions around the world in recent decades. The most prominent conclusion is that the success of democratic transitions is dependent on the extent of participation in the revolution, the revolution’s commitment to pacifism, the lack of exclusion and marginalization, and general agreement on the distribution of authority.