The dictators of two countries, Algeria and Sudan, have been shown the door and had it slammed shut behind them. Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir have both been forced to step down after massive public protests against them.
Let’s see what they have in common:
- Both were heads of oil-rich countries, so when oil prices were high, they were like kings, though many of the benefits of the oil money did not reach all the people.
- They were both supported by the military and the rich upper classes (more so in the case of Mr Bouteflika) and stayed in power so that they could serve their own needs.
- Both have a military army and use strong tactics to control the populations in their countries.
- They were very controlling and had strict restrictions on people’s freedoms, especially the freedom of speech.
They had their differences too, especially in how they ruled.
Algeria: President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who had been in power for twenty years, despite having suffered a stroke that left him paralysed and unable to speak well (he has not made a public speech in over seven years!), finally decided to step down. Until now, he was supported by the army and the rich elite, whom many say had the real power in the country – the President was their ‘puppet’, changing rules and laws to suit their needs. Not a great way to run a country! His announcement came after one million citizens took to the streets to force him out of power after suffering his brutal rule for years.
Sudan: Mr. al-Bashir in Sudan had been ruling the country since 1989, had a completely hands-on approach and was very powerful. He has been accused of terrible war crimes against humanity, especially in the Darfur region of the country. The International Criminal Court had even had a warrant out for his arrest. Though he dodged these major setbacks, in 2011, he was pushed to sign an agreement that gave birth to the new country of South Sudan. Mr. al-Bashir was not happy with the move, but when 99% of the South Sudanese population voted in favour of independence, he had to accept it. After protests against his rule began last December, he called a state of emergency in the country in February 2019, replacing all state governors with military forces. Finally, it was the military itself who forced his hand and made him step down.
What happens next? While both these are victories for the people, the troubles are not all over. In Algeria, Mr Bouteflika has been replaced with one of his old buddies, Mr Abdelkader Bensalah, as the acting President. The protestors are up in arms again and have promised to continue their marches and demonstrations till they get rid of the old guard. In Sudan too, people vowed to keep up their resistance after hearing the news that a ‘transitional period’ had begun under the military power.
For both countries, the road to democracy still seems like a long one.
Written by: Pereena Lamba. Pereena is a freelance writer, editor and creative consultant. She is also co-author of Totally Mumbai.