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Tunisia's Arab Summit and the Algerian uprising

Thousands of students, doctors and civil servants stage a protest to demand President Abdelaziz Bouteflika step from power, in front of Central Post Office Square in Algiers, Algeria on 19 March 2019. [Farouk Batiche - Anadolu Agency]
Thousands of students, doctors and civil servants stage a protest to demand President Abdelaziz Bouteflika step from power, in front of Central Post Office Square in Algiers, Algeria on 19 March 2019 [Farouk Batiche/Anadolu Agency]

There are two opposing scenes in the region right now: the first is the 30th Arab Summit convening in Tunisia, and the second is the scene of millions of Algerians taking to the streets. These two scenes are undoubtedly indicators of where the new era is heading. The first represents the official reality, with its institutes and leaders reflecting the ruling regimes and their authoritarian actions. Meanwhile the second is an interpretation of the will of the Arab public, who aspire for freedom, dignity, independence and an end to tyrannical regimes.

Messages of the Arab Summit

In this I am not talking about the final statement of the summit, which is usually a slightly-revised copy of previous statements of condemnation, denunciation and expressions of concern. Since the inception of the Arab League, Arab summits have been a formal forum that bring Arab rulers together so they can deliver speeches and reach decisions, but with no actions. What I'm talking about is the messages that reached the world and the Arab public.

US president Donald Trump, expressed his view of Arab rulers in a number of statements and tweets, which he summarised by saying: The Arabs – he means Arab leaders of course – will always condemn and denounce but will never act or react. This came in the context of a question regarding the Arab summit's reaction to the US' recognition of Israel's sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights.

This official US position very clearly summarises the situation of the Arab regimes, which has become pathetic at a global level. On the other hand, the crisis of the official political act is not confined to this great deficit, as it is reflected in the transformation of the official Arab institutions into a space for inter-state conflicts, after tools of joint Arab action have been turned into weapons to settle political accounts. In other words, official institutions are not only unable to achieve what they have been established for, but they themselves have become a tool for spreading chaos and preventing joint action.

Hasn't Iraq been invaded, destroyed and occupied through the gate of the Arab League? Wasn't the Gulf Cooperation a false witness to the siege of Qatar and the attempt to occupy it and starve its people? Didn't Syria, Yemen and Libya get destroyed under the silence of Arab institutions and their inability to act?

The Arab League is, in fact, the official representative and exclusive spokesperson of the authoritarian regime and its repressive institutions. It is an official tool to consolidate tyranny against the will of the people and against nations' rights to liberation and emancipation, but it is now living the end of its days. The popular revolutions that were launched from Tunisia did not only aim at eliminating these repressive regimes, but also targeted the means of these regimes and their joint mechanisms which in fact reflect common joint tyranny rather than joint Arab action.

The message of the Arab Summit is that Arab tyranny has not changed and that it is steadfast in its words and reactions towards fateful issues affecting the nation, despite all the massacres that have taken place and despite all the sacrifices and bloodshed. This makes relying on the possibility of changing this regime futile and a denial of reality.

READ: Arab leaders to seek UN Security Council resolution on Golan

Message from the public in Algeria

On the other hand, the blessed Algerian uprising – which has achieved its first outcome, the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the vacancy of the presidency – has not stopped. The message of Algeria is not only the message of the Algerian public but the message of the Arab people, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf. The uprising of Algeria is an affirmation that the Arab Spring is not over yet, and that the second wave of popular revolutions is only just beginning. This started with the uprising of Sudan all the way to the Algerian uprising, and undermines all claims of the anti-revolutionary forces which said that Arab revolutions are over.

The message of Algeria is a reminder of the characteristics of Arab Spring and of the Arab people, which reflect peaceful demands and rejection of violence in all its forms. Algeria's protests achieved a goal we believe to be the highest, as they showed the entire world how civilised and aware the Algerian people are throughout these protests. No violence has been witnessed in the Algerian protests, no glass broken, no trees destroyed and no one injured. It was waves of millions of protestors who are more concerned about the safety of the people and their properties than the forces of the regime ever were.

On the other hand, Algerians' demands were no different to those of other Arab Spring demands. They chanted similar slogans, the most popular of which was "people want to overthrow the regime". They also called for holding those corrupt leaders who destroyed the Algerian economy and caused social unrest accountable for their actions.

With such features, we cannot separate Algeria from the context of the Arab Spring, although there are many voices that say the Algerian experience is one that is separate. These voices deny that any relation between the Algerian demands, slogans, context and other previous revolutions exists. Despite all the bloody repression with which Syria, Egypt and Libya were faced, and which were thought enough to deter all other peoples from rising against their rulers, the Algerian protests, and before that the Sudanese experience, have disappointed such hopes.

READ: Half of Arab leaders absent from Tunisia summit

Reality and prospects

It may be premature and difficult to predict the outcomes of the Algerian or Sudanese protests, because the fate of both revolutions is not going to be resolved by internal steps alone. Rather, the international community, which controls the fate of the region through its agents, will also have a say in the new revolutionary path. Whatever the case, the continued popular movement proves beyond doubt that the battle of peoples with tyrannical regimes will not stop until their goals are achieved, and that all attempts at questioning and circumventing them are nothing but a waste of time, blood and property.

The official Arab regimes may have another opinion and more ways to suppress the new popular movements, but this will only prove this regime's rejection of all possible peaceful solutions to reach change. Today's official regimes are living their deepest crises, manifested in the denial of the new reality and the attempt to forcibly go back in time to prevent all peaceful solutions and alternatives offered by their people. Even in Tunisia, the venue of the summit, Tunisian elites and the Tunisian public could not hide their mockery of the great waste expressed by these official occasions, which have become a popular joke that is suitable for humour and treachery.

This article first appeared in Arabic on Arabi21, 4 April 2019

READ: Algeria protests continue despite Bouteflika resignation

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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