On Saturday, 9 October 2021, the tenth annual conference on democratic transition, organized by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies over 4 days, began. In his opening speech, Haider Saeed, Head of the Research Department at the Arab Center, highlighted the importance of the conference, as an academic tradition established by the Center that has produced a series of academic events researching the decade of Arab transitions, and producing an entire library of studies and books on the topic.
Abdel-Fattah Mady, coordinator of both the Democratic Transition Project and the conference, also gave a speech, in which he noted the importance of the conference topic given the challenges of transition in the countries of the second wave of the Arab Spring. The focus was turned to the experiences of Sudan and Algeria, to re-examine the many issues of democratic transition in the Arab context. He discussed the academic aspects of the conference and the selection process for participation. He also noted that the Arab Center has created a unit to study the state and political systems in Arab countries, to take the project’s outputs to a broader research horizon, investigating various aspects of governance systems and its broader issues.
The first conference session, moderated by Doha Institute President, Abdelwahab El-Affendi, explored the elites and institutions of political transition in Sudan. Hassan Elhajj Ali, Professor of Political Science at the University of Khartoum, presented his paper on the impact of the hybrid alliance of various forces governing the transitional period in Sudan. The results of his study indicates first that the hybrid alliance that governs the transitional period is contingent on the balance of strategic goals between the main parties, and on the balances of strategic goals within each party, with interdependence between these two levels. Second, the length of the transitional period has exposed issues that reflect the differences between the parties to the coalition, pushing the country into a state of shifting alliances according to evolving political identities. Third, the risk/benefit equation of holding elections indicates that the duration of this period may extend for years ahead, leaving the transitional period wide open.
This was followed by Abdullahi Ali Ibrahim, Journalist, and Playwright, who serves as Emeritus Professor of African and Islamic History at the University of Missouri and presented his paper demonstrating that Sudan’s transitional period is haunted by the spectre of the “infernal circle.” The paper reassesses the validity of the concept of the “elite,” an idea taken from Western thought. Secondly, it places blame for the vicious circle at the door of the “counterrevolution” so often absent from our political analysis. When we allow our reading of the transitional period to be restricted to conflict between elites, we develop the mistaken impression that this elite would be capable of not fighting among themselves if only they were better people. This paper roots the elite within a broader social conflict in which the elite are not only a party in their own right, but are locked in a bitter war amongst themselves.
Attigany Abdel Kadir Hamed, Professor and Head of the Department of Social Sciences at the Ibn Khaldun Center, Qatar University, spoke next on the prospects for democratic transition in Sudan. His paper concluded that it is not inconceivable that the agreed goal between the international powers and their authoritarian partners in the region is to move Sudan into a “hybrid” system. This entails elements of the old authoritarian regime continuing to hold the joints of power, while preserving a minimum level of democracy. In addition, the ruling military-civilian alliance will find support from the United States and the European Union (and their regional allies), enabling it to dismantle the institutions of the former regime, absorb a number of armed movements into the political process, and gradually engage in the international (security and economic) system. Internally, the transitional government will face challenges that may not only lead to the collapse of the transition but could also lead to the collapse of the Sudanese state itself.
ACRPS Researcher, Mohammad Hemchi, moderated the next session, on the challenges of state building and constitutional issues in Algeria. Professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Taher Moulay University of Saida, Abdelkadir Abdelali, presented his paper looking at the nature of political power in Algeria following the popular movement, focusing on the dialectic between the ambition of democratic transition and the consolidation of the anocractic model. He concluded that expanding the scope and capabilities of civil society and its generation of strong and institutionalized social and political movements can change the rules of the political game and direct protest towards avoiding political violence. This, in turn, would lead to effective reforms in the rules of conduct and political decision-making within the system.
Kamal Djalab, Algerian Researcher and Professor of Constitutional Law and Institutions at the University of Djelfa in Algeria, spoke next, examining the effectiveness of the constitutional route in launching the process of democratic transition according to the demands of the 2019 popular movement in Algeria. He observed that if the approach to the constitutional solution that the government adhered to after Bouteflika’s resignation is the safest path for democratic transition, then the effectiveness of this constitutional path in supporting reform will remain linked to the will of the government to reach a consensus on the necessity of demolishing the existing constitutional system and then re-creating a constitutional system with new rules that embody the principles of modern constitutionalism and fulfill the demands of reform.
Adnen Nouioua, Assistant Professor of Law at Institute of Technological Studies of Bizerte University in Tunisia, rounded off the first day of the conference with his paper on how the anti-corruption policy contributes to the challenges facing Algeria since the popular movement that erupted in 2019 and resulted in the transition to democracy. The paper concludes that the adoption and implementation of “modified” anti-corruption policies in Algeria would support the balance between social, economic and political modernization prospects, thus enhancing the chances of establishing a “self-reformed” and sustainable democratic political system.
The third session of the conference, chaired by Mehdi Mabrouk, Director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Tunis, three papers were presented that discussed the different dimensions of restoring peace in Sudan, and ways to overcome conflicts in the post-Bashir era. Mona Hedaya, Researcher at the ACRPS Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies, began with her paper, prepared with Director of the same Center, Sultan Barakat, on The Centrality of the Eastern Region for Peace in Sudan. Their paper offered preliminary ideas that may contribute to healing the rifts in terms of preventive diplomacy.
Bahaeldin Makkawi Mohammed, Associate Professor in the Department of International Affairs at Qatar University followed with his paper on The Juba Agreement for Peace in Sudan. His paper suggests the possibility that the parties to the peace process will be able to confront the challenges facing the peace process due to the parties’ keenness to move forward with implementing the agreement and the broad popular and international support it has received. But the sustainability of peace requires the parties to the peace process to have sufficient awareness of the dangers of slipping into war again, and that the movements that signed the agreement take the critical economic and political conditions of the country into account.
Hamed Omer Hawi, Professor of Political Science at Bahri University in Sudan was the final panelist, presenting his paper on challenges of the democratic transition in Sudan following the December 2018 revolution. He noted that it is still too early to say whether the transition has failed or succeeded when some goals are still far from being achieved, dealing with certain issues seems to deepen fractures, and the overall experience is proceeding very slowly. However, some achievements have been made in a relatively short period and despite the complex political, social, economic, and security reality that the transitional government inherited. The results of some endeavours and initiatives are yet to be seen.
The fourth session, chaired by Saleh Zayani, Professor of Political Science at the University of Batna, revolved around issues related to civil-military relations in Algeria and Sudan. Mohamed Si Bachir, Professor at the National School of Political Sciences, examined the security/military and political dialectic in the Algerian democratic transition experience. He emphasized the need to take into account the experiences of the October 1988 uprising and the 2019 movement to formulate a change model that establishes a democratic transition and eliminates this dialectic within a consensual framework, building a non-rentier economic model.
Karar El-Tohami, a former Sudanese diplomat and ambassador who headed the China Department of the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, presented next on transition problems in Sudan, looking at revolutionary and democratic defects. His paper suggests reshaping political actors, raising institutional and public awareness, and changing the structure of the parties in the current scene. Independent researcher Adel Ourabah followed with a paper on The Algerian military establishment and its role in the popular movement. His paper suggests that the changes that the military institution underwent during the Bouteflika era, and the tentative bets associated with that, redefined, to some extent, its role in the context of the popular movement.
The next session looked at social forces in the context of transition, chaired by Hamid Ali, Associate Professor and Dean of the School of Public Administration and Development Economics at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies. Mohamed Naiimi, Sociology Professor at the Institute of Social Development in Rabat, presented on Social Movements in Sudan and Algeria and their Implications for Democratic Transition Demands. He argued that the presence of a strong political opposition in Sudan and its involvement in and support for the movement has given the latter political legitimacy and enabled it to crystallize and negotiate the demands of a democratic transition with the military establishment and embark on a transitional phase. Missing this has prevented the formulation of agreed political demands and stunted Algerian democratic transition.
Hassan El-Saouri, Professor of Political Science at Al-Neelain University in Sudan, followed with a paper on the Sudanese revolution and the challenges of democratic transition, exploring the outcomes of the December 2018 Sudanese revolution, clarifying the challenges facing the political elites in the country's transition to democracy. Mashair Al-Ameen Al-Dawlab, Assistant professor in the Faculty of Economics and Social and Environmental Sciences at UMST, and head of the Women, Family and Society Studies Unit at the Sudanese Development Institute finished the session with a paper on the meta-social engineering of women’s issues in the transitional period in Sudan. She argued that that the top-down measures are fundamentally undemocratic because they were implemented before elections had been held. The social engineering policies pursued by the transitional government have tried to effect cultural change without paying any attention to representation or political participation, which are among the most important indicators of democratic transition.
The 6th session on economic issues in transitional contexts was chaired by Sidahmed Goudjili. Former Sudanese parliamentarian, Ali Ibrahim Mohamed, presented his paper on economic obstacles to post-December 2019 democratic transition in Sudan. He concludes that the unequal distribution of power within the ruling coalition means that political responses are ineffective in addressing the challenge of grand corruption, and are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future, which in extreme cases could be a major obstacle to both democratization and economic development.
Research Professor at the Center for Research in Applied Economics for Development in Algeria, Khalid Menna and PhD student in statistics and applied economics and Researcher at the Research Center for Applied Economics for Development in Algeria, Reda Boudjana presented their joint paper on the political economy of the democratic transition in Algeria. They argued that the current wager is on changing the rentier logic that has long characterized the Algerian economy and ridding it of all its lingering sediments, especially corruption and bribery, ushering in real openness, both in economic and political terms. This requires changing the current sources of economic growth based mainly on the large exploitation of oil resources, intensive import by a small group and the informal economy. Elzaky Elhelw, Teaching Assistant in Department of Economics, University of Khartoum, finished the session with a paper on the economic causes of the December 2018 uprising. He concluded that economic fragility, reflected in the state's inability to provide subsidized goods and control prices, led to a build-up of popular anger and, ultimately, a revolution that toppled the regime. Other factors contributed to this anger and eventually led people to the street, including the empowerment policy and the repercussions of the civil war.
The final day of the conference began with the 7th session on external influences on transitions moderated by Associate Professor in the linguistics and Arabic lexicography program at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, Ashraf Abdelhay. Ahmed Ibrahim Abu Shouk, Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Qatar University, presented his paper on transitional revolutionary government in Sudan and Israeli normalization. He concludes that the transitional government's approval of normalization was not a priority for a democratic transition, as evidenced by the different positions of the political parties regarding the formal normalization procedures and its expected objective outcomes. Opponents of the transitional government's approval of normalization have called it “political blackmail,” based on a strategic dimension that serves US priorities to maintain Israeli security and its political and military superiority in the region, and a financial dimension reflected in the economic crisis that threatens the democratic transition in Sudan.
Marafy Al-Bahi, Postgraduate student at the Department of Political Science, University of Khartoum, followed with her paper on military rapprochement and external impact on the trajectory of the democratic transition in Sudan. She concluded that securitization theorists are right in their assumption that the phenomenon of security is relational, so that state issues cannot be addressed in isolation from its complex regional environment, where influences overlap and interdependence between regional units and the main actors persist.
The eighth and final session, exploring the internal and external challenges of political transition was moderated by ACRPS Researcher Abdou Mousa. Arbi Boumediene, Professor and Researcher in political science at Hassiba Benbouali University of Chlef, Algeria, presented on the international context of the 2019 movement in Algeria. His study concludes that the absence of regional and international interventions in the Algerian popular movement is mainly related to the geopolitical and strategic imperative, distinct from moral and normative considerations, as the risks of instability in Algeria would create very complex security challenges in the Mediterranean region. Algeria also plays an important role in maintaining the strategic balances of the region, especially for European security.
Final speaker, Yasser Derwiche Djazaerly, Professor in the Department of Humanities at Fitchburg State University in the United States, spoke about the geopolitical transformations and the 2019 movement in Algeria. He demonstrated that reform and external factors have helped the Algerian government to overcome this movement, arguing that the key to the success of this policy is the flexibility of the ruling regime internally and externally.