The decision by the aged President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to seek a fifth term in Algeria last week triggered some of the largest protests in the country’s recent history. The massive, peaceful rallies exceeded the expectations of most observers of Algeria and of the broader Middle East. The protests focused on rejecting a fifth term for Bouteflika but could easily evolve into wider demands.
Algeria’s unrest erupted in the shadow of long-lasting, highly consequential protests in Sudan against long-ruling President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. While initially understood as protests against food prices, Sudan’s protests quickly focused on political repression and Bashir’s decades of governance failure. The protests expanded far beyond the usual precincts, taking hold across the country and in a wide variety of sectors. Last week, Bashir defied reports that he would not seek another term in 2020 by declaring a state of emergency and escalating violent repression of protesters.
The simultaneous eruption and gathering momentum of the Algerian and Sudanese protests inevitably bring comparisons with the 2011 Arab uprisings. Could Algeria and Sudan be the trigger for a region wide protest wave comparable to the one ignited by Tunisia’s revolution? That may be the wrong question.