A new wave of Arab uprisings began in December last year in Sudan and has expanded to Lebanon, Iraq and Algeria. But this time protesters have learnt not to make the same mistakes that were made in the Arab Spring almost ten years ago, which is relatively bringing more legitimacy, however still slowly, to the popular movements.
Protesters now understand that a leader resigning or being toppled does not always mean that the political regime they oppose has fallen. Moreover, protesters have learnt that rushed and forced elections are a trap to renew an old regime with a different name to it. These popular movements have also shown that resorting to violence and polarisation go in opposite directions with democratic transitions and change. The case of Syria showed us that taking up arms is an opportunity for the regime to relabel a popular uprising into a deadly civil war. Although demonstrations in the cases of Iraq and Sudan have been faced with brutal repression and violence, protesters have stood firm with their non-violent approaches. And this is exactly what we have seen in the case of Algeria.
Former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika had been in power for 20 years and had plans to run for a fifth term. His plans to stay in power sparked mass demonstrations nicknamed as the ‘smile revolution’ or the ‘Hirak’ (movement) which resulted in Bouteflika’s resignation in April this year. But this was not enough, people wanted the whole system dissolved and rushed elections before any deep political reforms were not the solution either.
However, after being postponed twice, the military authorities held a presidential vote last 12th December, going against the protesters’ claims. The vote was boycotted by millions of Algerians and saw an extremely low voter turnout, less than 40%. The election of the former prime minister and the military establishment preferred candidate Abdelmadjid Tebboune, widely rejected by the Algerian public, calling it a sham.
Given the popular boycott, the low turnout and the continuation of mass demonstrations, the election of Mr Tebboune shows very little legitimacy and will put him under pressure of ever-growing popular demands. Unrest will continue, but where should all this go?
The Algerian political and especially military authorities have a huge amount of power in the country. There are three options as to what could be their next move. The first is they keep ignoring the demands of the popular movement and wait for the exhaustion of the protests, the second is relying on coercive measures and the third is compromise and negotiation.
But protesters have learnt their lesson. They will not cease to fight until they see deep reforms in the regime, and they will continue to insist on their non-violent methods. Therefore, what is left is to come down to negotiations. And for this, there needs to be a minimum of institutionalisation of the Algerian popular movement where leaders are appointed to represent the protesters´ claims and to negotiate with the political and military leadership.
Lessons have been learnt, and therefore popular movements and their demands will be gaining more and more legitimacy, which is in itself a positive outcome already.