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Sudan and Tunisia: Two Cases in Danger

Sudan and Tunisia: Two Cases in Danger

Thursday, 7 October, 2021 - 11:15

Sudan and Tunisia were relatively successful in their attempts to rid themselves of tyranny through popular revolutions that toppled regimes that had empowered the security services and army while suppressing freedoms for decades. Today, the two countries are both in deep political crises that carry the risk of a return to authoritarian and military rule.

It is still too early to give a verdict on the fates of Sudan and Tunisia. Still, it seems that early developments justify a pessimistic projection about the future of the democratic transitions in the two countries. Putting aside the differences between the countries, major differences, and their divergent conditions, and without being prejudiced or speculating, we could find several similarities that suggest it would be extremely difficult for them to get past the intractable situation they find themselves in.

There are significant differences between the two countries’ political histories. A bureaucratic secular regime governed Tunisia after independence, while attempts at implementing Shariaa (Islamic law) were made in Sudan during Jaafar al-Nimeiri’s era and when the Islamist Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation took power in 1989. The Tunisian army’s almost total lack of influence on political life contrasts sharply with what happened in Sudan, where the military has been the strongest player in the country since independence.

Tunisia’s relatively stable economy with links to Western economies, through tourism and a few mining and manufacturing industries, contrasts sharply with the civil wars, the secession of the south, ethnic massacres in Darfur and Nuba, and chronic poverty that have marked contemporary Sudan. Added to all of these differences are the major distinctions between the social and cultural structures of the two countries.

Nonetheless, in 2019, the Sudanese people succeeded, after mass protests and through the joint efforts of syndicalists, professionals, the political opposition and civil society organizations, to distance Omar al-Bashir and his supporters from power after they had held it for 30 years, leaving the country ravaged, poor and destroyed. Sudan was thus the only success of the “second wave of the Arab Spring” (which included Iraq, Lebanon, Algeria and Sudan). It thereby joined Tunisia in being one of the two Arab countries on the path toward building a pluralistic, democratic system of government that strives to derive its legitimacy from the people and the constitution. They put an end to the legitimacy based on “liberation and revolution” that the post-independence regimes had relied on.

All of this comes amid a general climate of nullifying everything that had transpired over the past decade of revolutions that mostly failed. We see the whitewashing of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria in preparation for its reintegration into the Arab League, at which point international tasks and missions will be handed to it. In Lebanon, we see the Europeans letting the ruling clique off the hook after it had caused the economic collapse and social catastrophe that is ravaging the country.

Finally, a blind eye is being turned to the bloodshed by the Iraqis who joined the October Movement and to the assassinations carried out by Iran’s “Loyalist Factions,” preventing the emergence of a more independent and less corrupt regime in Baghdad. Therefore, it seems that worrying about the future being drawn for Tunisia and Sudan is warranted, indeed necessary.

The problem with the “July 25” developments is that President Kais Saied taking control of both the legislative and executive wings of government brings questions about oversight and power’s subjection to popular and democratic accountability back to the fore. That is a question of principle for every regime that claims to not be a personal tyranny or one of minority rule. The problems that Tunisia had been undergoing on the eve of President Saied’s decision to suspend parliament and dismiss the previous government indicated that the country had reached a dead end. Ennahda’s policies combined with the country’s economic decline and the divisions within the political forces’ ranks made those problems appear unsolvable.

Claims that the actions of the Tunisian president were inevitable and that there was no alternative for breaking the deadlock that the country had been in have been repudiated by some who argued that democratic systems’ primary advantage is that it provides alternatives and can create them even during moments of political stagnation.

In Sudan, Sovereignty Council of Sudan Chairman Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, in the aftermath of the thwarted coup attempt made two weeks ago, said that the army is the country’s “guardian” and that “no faction can distance it,” before a group of figures and parties agreed to form a committee that is separate from that which represents the civil and professional forces in the civilian wing of the administration in charge of the transitional period that will run until the legislative elections, scheduled for 2024, take place.

Despite his commitment to elections, Burhan’s rhetoric about the military’s guardianship of Sudan stems from the background of boiling all the states’ institutions down to the armed forces, something seen in many Arab and Third World countries. That is because the army portrays itself as the only body with the organization, discipline and ability needed to act, drawing a contrast between itself and state’s the flabby, corrupt civilian institutions and everything else that falls under the umbrella of civilian rule. Clinging to such rhetoric raises concerns about the civic components of Sudanese governance and worries those hoping for Sudan’s stability and prosperity that would turn the page on its turbulent and violent past.

The fates of Sudan and Tunisia are shaped by balances of power that are not all local and domestic. These fates are being decided at a time when the world shows little concern for peoples’ interests, a time reminiscent of the long history of supporting dictatorships under the pretext of economic and geopolitical interests.

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