Sudan, Algeria offer region’s protesters a glimmer of hope
In the midst of grim news emanating from the region — Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Yemen being a case in point — two extraordinary events should have received more attention both regionally and globally. In Khartoum on Saturday, a Sudanese court reportedly sentenced deposed president and strongman Omar Al-Bashir to 10 years for corruption and possession of illicit foreign currency. However, the sentence was reduced to two years to be served at a reform facility. Bashir, 75, was deposed by the military in April following months of nationwide public protests against his rule.
And, in Algeria last week, two former prime ministers were convicted of corruption-related charges and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Ahmed Ouyahia was sentenced to 15 years in prison, while Abdelmalek Sellal was handed a 12-year sentence. Both had served under former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was also forced to step down in April following mass protests that erupted in February as he sought a fifth term in office. Four other former ministers were sentenced to prison for terms ranging between five and 10 years.
In September, a military court had sentenced Bouteflika’s brother, Said, to 15 years in prison for plotting against the state and undermining the army. He was considered to be Algeria’s strongman following his brother’s stroke in 2013.
While Bashir’s sentence is symbolic — considering the serious allegations of abuse of power, corruption, torture of opponents and genocide during his long reign — it is seen as an indictment of a dark chapter of Sudan’s modern history. He may still face fresh charges and the Sudanese government, run by both civilian and military authorities, will have to address warrants issued against him in 2009 by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Darfur region.
In May, Bashir was also charged with incitement and involvement in the killing of protesters between last December and his removal, and prosecutors want to investigate his role in the 1989 military coup that brought him to power. His National Congress Party is likely to be dissolved. There is also public pressure to bring former Bashir aides and officials to justice.
The long prison sentences handed down to former Algerian officials have partially placated the street, but protesters still want more. The country, which remains under the rule of the military, is going through a crucial phase following last week’s presidential election. On Friday, former Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune was declared the winner with more than 58 percent of the votes. But protesters, who had vowed to boycott the election, rejected the results.
Tebboune, 74, appealed to the protesters, vowing to amend the constitution and approve a new election law. It remains to be seen if his conciliatory gesture will be embraced. In both Sudan and Algeria, the military remains a major player whose influence on the political scene is formidable.
Bringing corrupt officials to justice is a common denominator for demonstrators from Iraq to Lebanon and Algeria to Sudan. A peaceful transition is today the biggest challenge in all of these countries. But what has taken place in Sudan and Algeria is a major step toward national reconciliation and is a far cry from the more dismal and bloody fate that befell Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Former President Hosni Mubarak and most of his aides were either acquitted or received light sentences following the Jan. 25, 2011, revolt in Egypt. The country remains polarized as it searches for national reconciliation following decades of authoritarian rule.
What has taken place in Sudan and Algeria is a major step toward national reconciliation.
The popular uprisings in Iraq and Lebanon have cast a shadow over the prospects of arriving at a peaceful political transition. In Iraq, hundreds of protesters have been gunned down since the eruption of protests two months ago. And, in recent days, a number of activists have been kidnapped or killed by unknown forces. Pressure on the government to protect the demonstrators and bring those involved in unlawful killings to justice is mounting. There is little doubt that pro-Iran militias are involved in the summary killing of protesters. One major public demand is to put corrupt officials on trial. That is yet to take place.
In Lebanon, the protesters appear united in their rejection of the entire ruling class. They also want to see officials, who are accused of pilfering billions of dollars over past decades, brought to justice. Infiltrators, whom the protesters accuse of belonging to Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, are now trying to disrupt the largely peaceful rallies. Like Iraq, Lebanon is politically fragmented, making it almost impossible to arrive at a political formula that will appease the protesters.
In all of these countries, one thing is clear: The utter failure of regimes to provide social justice and meet the basic needs of their people. Such needs have transcended sectarian, ethnic and political divides. People want accountability and the rule of law. And they will not disperse until they get what they want.
- Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010