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Studies 03 March, 2020

Public Opinion and The Army: The Cases of Algeria and Sudan

Dana El Kurd

Researcher at the Arab Center. She obtained a doctorate in political science from the University of Texas in Austin, USA. Her research interests focus on comparative politics and international relations, specifically Palestine, and the relationship of authoritarianism in the Arab world to American intervention.

This article investigates the opinions of Sudanese and Algerian respondents on democracy as a model of government in their countries. It focuses on a group of questions: How much do Algerian and Sudanese citizens trust the army? Do citizens agree that ‘democratic regimes are not good at preserving public order?’ And what do they think of democracy as an overall system of governance?

Similar to many countries around the world, the military establishment has played a key role in the aftermath of protests in both Algeria and Sudan. Militaries have long since been identified as a crucial player in the transition process. Whether or not the military establishment overturns the democratic process, or suppresses protests, can determine the success or failure of a protest movement. Many scholars have examined the conditions under which the military makes the decision to “return to the barracks,” rather than continue involvement in politics. Most scholars agree that when there are internal divisions in the military’s leadership, this can push a certain segment to political negotiation rather than authoritarian crackdown. Militaries can also be convinced to negotiate with opposition forces if there is reason to believe the opposition, once in power, will not affect the army’s interests. Finally, some argue that militaries are more likely to negotiate and attempt to stabilize the regime when they fear not doing so will only spark extreme protests and radical change. In both Algeria and Sudan, it is important to understand public perception of the military establishment in order to explain the military’s current role, and prospects for future negotiations. Is public perception of the military in both of these countries positive, which explains why the military intervened to acquiesce protesters and remove Bouteflika or Bashir from power? Is the Sudanese military’s choice to use violence on June 3rd a function of an “under siege” mentality as a result of public pressure? Using the Arab Opinion Index, we can look at some basic data regarding public perception of the military, its performance, and its role in the government.

* This study was published in the fifth issue of AlMuntaqa, peer-reviewed academic journal for the social sciences and humanities, (pp. 81-89). You can read the full paper here.

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