Unrest in the Arab World

Several large countries that consider themselves “Arab”, although ethnically they are not, are currently in various stages of political unrest.  This includes Algeria, a country of 41 million people (that is mainly Berber not Arab), Sudan, also 41 million (that calls itself Arab, but is in fact African), and Libya (7 million), that is in the violent final stages of chaos since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. 

In Algeria, the political turmoil is over the former President Bouteflika deciding to remain President for a fifth term.  The outpouring of millions of people forced the military to replace Bouteflika, but his replacement Bensalah is of course a former member of the regime.  So the demonstrations are continuing in order to try to force the Army to accept a civilian government.  These demonstrations are exactly parallel to those that took place in Egypt and lead tot he overthrow of Pres. Mubarak in the so-called “Arab Spring” in 2011.

At the same time, and certainly not by coincidence, the same scenario is playing itself out in Sudan .  The President Omar al Bashir, who has imposed a strict religious Sunni regime on Sudan and has exercised autocratic rule for 30 years, has finally been deposed by massive demonstrations of “people power.”  The Army have taken over and arrested Bashir (who himself was a general when he seized power in 1989), and has declared a two-year military rule.  Here also the demonstrations are continuing to prevent a mere continuation of the regime and the people demand a return to civilian rule.

I remember having a Sudanese friend in Cambridge when I was a graduate student.  He told me that  Israel could not last because it is an artificial state.  Now Israel has had another of many successive elections and is not only peaceful, but stable and affluent. By contrast, Sudan is in a terrible state, currently in chaos, the Christian/Pagan South has defected and formed its own State, South Sudan, because of the Islamic policies of Pres. Bashir, and the western region of Darfur has been embroiled in a war for many years, for which Bashir is wanted by the UN as a war criminal. Who was right?   

The demonstrations in Algeria and Sudan have so far been peaceful.  In Libya the situation is different because there are in fact two centers of power, Tripoli, the capital in the west, that contains the recognized civilian government, and Benghazi in the east. where the Libyan National Army under military commander Gen. Khalifa Haftar is based.  Currently this army is attacking Tripoli, but has been held up by fierce resistance with the assistance of the army of the city of Misrata, that is near Tripoli and which played a key role in the overthrow of Qaddafi.  Haftar is attempting to reinstall military control in Libya, and the civilian government with international support is resisting.  It appears that Haftar may be getting military support from Russia.  Libya is of course very rich in oil.

These manifestations of political unrest, military control and resort to violence are symptomatic of so-called Arab States.  What a pity they cannot get their act together and have civilian governments and civilized societies.