Amid repression and setbacks, people’s movements in north Africa continue struggles

North Africa in 2020 was both a site of armed conflict and repression, and yet, also an example of the determined resistance of the people to the forces of repression

December 30, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
Sudanese protesters take to the streets in June with the demand to "correct the revolution." Photo: Sudanese Professionals Association

[Peoples Dispatch brings you a series of articles and videos on 2020, a momentous year that saw humanity face unprecedented challenges. The beacon of hope remained the historic resistance mounted by people’s movements, and the care and solidarity they epitomized, proving yet again that our collective struggles alone can dismantle and end oppression. You can see the full series here]

North Africa in 2020 was both a site of armed conflict and repression, and yet, also an example of the determined resistance of the people to the forces of repression.

The powerful people’s movements that were unleashed the previous year in Sudan and Algeria continued to agitate against the remnants of former regimes which consolidated power. In Tunisia, amid deepening political chaos, the people took to the streets repeatedly against unemployment and the declining living conditions. In Libya, which has become a major staging grounds for geo-political rivalries, tentative moves are being made towards peace. The people of Western Sahara continued their decades-long struggle against occupation, their aspirations further attacked by a controversial deal struck between Morocco, Israel and the US.

Here, we take a deeper look at two countries where mass movements kept fighting to preserve the gains of their protests, and two countries where the 10th anniversary of the Arab Spring protests were marked in very different ways.

Sudan

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in Sudan’s capital Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman on December 19 to commemorate two years of the December Revolution which began in 2018. The movement was successful in overthrowing the long-time dictator Omar al-Bashir and paving the way for the current transitional government.

This year, grassroots organizations and left forces who spearheaded the mass movement called for a “course correction.” Protesters accused the civilian politicians of doing little to effect a transfer of full executive power to civilian forces. While Omar al-Bashir now stands trial at the ICC for genocide and his party is dismantled, the military still remains deeply entrenched in the transitional government. 

There has been considerable progress in achieving peace deals with various armed rebel movements, which was one of the main tasks the transitional government was entrusted with. However, the peace process itself has been perverted in a manner that is resulting in an alliance between the military, the armed movements and the civilian politicians backed by the centrist parties, grassroots organizations claim.

This alliance is seeking to marginalize the left and popular forces in the legislative council to be formed on December 31. The transformative agenda with which they had brought about the December Revolution has been abandoned for surface changes, protesters allege.

The Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) has withdrawn from the ruling coalition. Sudan Tribune reported that the SCP had “launched a campaign.. to overthrow the transitional government, remove the military from power and to restore the original Transitional Constitutional Document.”  

It was these organizations which had formed the backbone of the mass-movement which had brought down Bashir, and they still retain the mobilized masses on the streets.

Algeria 

The Hirak protests in Algeria, which in 2019 overthrew the long term dictator Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was a major victory against the decades-old entrenched power structures of the country. The extremely effective popular mobilization against the Bouteflika regime took place so quickly that it took by surprise many who were a part of the political apparatus of nearly 20 years and had a seemingly well established authoritarian control over the country.

But the departure of Bouteflika did not give way to the new. The regime which succeeded kept in place many of the old practices and features of the earlier, resulting in renewed anger and frustration among Algerians. The Hirak protests continued against the new rulers in the country, while facing many difficulties and assaults at the hands of the government. A spate of arrests and imprisonments of journalists, human rights activists, leaders and supporters followed as the new government tried to assert its power and finish off any opposition or dissent in the country.

In the last one year, the country witnessed many Algerian citizens being targeted with false and trumped up criminal charges and having to go through lengthy, sham trials, as the government tried to intimidate its critics and opponents with the threat of judicial persecution and punishment.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic also gave the new regime a pretext to impose curfews and other restrictions and derail demonstrations led by Hirak in the country. However, that did not break the resolve of the protesters and who were back on the streets, demanding more comprehensive and substantial reforms.

The present regime of president Abdelmadjid Tebboune has continued to crush the Algerian people’s hopes and aspirations for their country, even after the humiliation of a strong rebuke in the form of a constitutional referendum with historically low participation by the people, reminding the powers that be the total lack of popular support and trust it suffers from, without which it too is surviving on borrowed time.

Egypt and Tunisia

A decade ago, massive protests in Egypt brought down the regime of Hosni Mubarak and promised a new dawn for the people. The following years saw the betrayal of that promise as the military came back, unleashing even more brutal repression. However, the resistance within Egypt is not over. 

The Egyptian military-backed regime under the leadership of Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, now in its second term since the 2013 coup which overthrew Mohammad al-Morsi, has unleashed ruthless oppression of opposition voices. This includes attacks on trade unions, women’s rights movements and any signs of popular dissatisfaction over the failures of the government to deliver on the basic services. 

Egypt has over 60,000 political prisoners. Journalists have been prime targets. 

The al-Sisi government tried to hide it’s failures to address economic distress and the pandemic situation through typical nationalist postures against the UAE over Libya and against Ethiopia over the Renaissance dam. Using the pandemic as an excuse, the regime has led a massive crackdown of opposition to its state induced displacement in Sinai. 

The people of Egypt have, however, continued to maintain a resistance in very difficult circumstances. The anniversary of  last year’s protests, for instance, showed the strength of these mobilizations.

Tunisia, the other country transformed by the Arab Spring, saw political chaos with prime minister Elyes Fakhfakh resigning over allegations of financial wrongdoing. He was the eighth prime minister of the country since the overthrow of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali during the Arab Spring. While the country has managed to preserve democracy, successive governments have continued with neoliberal policies that have led to a worsening of the economic situation and unemployment. The protests were especially fierce in the southern region, which has faced the brunt of the economic crisis, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.

(With inputs from Abdul Rahman, Abhijan Choudhury and Pavan Kulkarni)

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