There are two major lessons that political forces have learned from the past experiences. One is seen in their insistence on the nonviolent character of the movement. They are very keen on avoiding doing anything that would give the state the opportunity to use the full spectrum of its repressive means against them.
The first wave of revolts too was actually very keen on that. They all raised the slogan “silmiyya, silmiyya,” which means “peaceful, peaceful,” even in Syria. All attempted to stick to nonviolent means. Violence was started everywhere without exception by the regimes themselves. Of course, faced with a qualitative escalation of state violence, the mass movement has only two options left: one is to give up the struggle, and the other is to defend itself.
Civil wars attracted foreign intervention of various kinds. In Libya, foreign intervention by the US and its allies came in favor of the insurgents in an attempt at co-opting their struggle. The result was that it is the only Arab state that has completely collapsed due to the victory of the insurgents. That’s because the whole state machine was organically tied to Muamar Gaddafi and his clique.
On the other hand, in Syria, foreign intervention mainly by Iran, its proxies, and Russia was on the side of the regime. It enabled Bashar al-Assad’s regime to survive, commit terrible massacres, and destroy whole swathes of the country. The scale of atrocities has been far worse in Syria than in any country so far. Even Yemen comes second in terms of the scale of the tragedy. There, foreign intervention is conducted by the Saudi kingdom and the UAE on the side of one counterrevolutionary camp opposing the alliance of two other counterrevolutionary forces.
In light of these tragedies, new mass movements have become acutely wary of this risk of violence and foreign-backed civil war and are very much taking it into consideration. In a sense, what is most amazing is that the Algerians and Sudanese started their revolt at all given the tragic outcomes they saw in other countries. The regimes in the whole region have been using those outcomes as a powerful new counterrevolutionary argument to dissuade their peoples from rising. The Algerian regime explicitly warned the mass movement that they risked a Syrian scenario. But that was not enough to deter the people from going into the streets and fighting for their aspirations and demands.
The second lesson that Sudanese and Algerian activists have learned is that the military command is not an ally. They learned that from the experience in Egypt, whose kind of state is most similar to theirs. These states have in common the fact that the military are in control of political power. The armed forces are not just a repressive backbone of the state, which is something common to all states, but the center of gravity of political power.
The Sudanese and Algerians had watched how the army removed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 on the background of the uprising only to restore
the old order at first opportunity. So, when the military removed Bouteflika in Algeria and Bashir in Sudan, the popular movement knew that this was not enough. It understood that the removal of the president and his cronies was just the removal of the tip of the iceberg, that the mass of the iceberg — what people call the deep state — made up especially of the military-security complex, is still in place and that as long as power remains in its hands, there is no end to the regime.
Even when the military relinquished control of the head of the state for a year in Egypt, they were actively preparing their comeback. And on the first chance they got, they staged a coup against the elected president from the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi, and came back to full political power with the crowning of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The regime is so authoritarian now that it made the Egyptians miss the previous dictator, Mubarak!
So, the movements in Sudan and Algeria have learned the lesson that one must get rid of the deep state. You can see the difference between the Egyptian uprising’s reaction to the military taking down of Mubarak and the Sudanese and Algerian movements’ reaction to the similar removal of their dictators. In Egypt, people thought it was victory and emptied the squares after celebrating. But in Algeria and Sudan, people said that’s not enough and carried on demonstrating.
They want to get rid of the whole regime, not just a few people at the top. Getting rid of the regime means giving back political power to civil society through democratic means including elections and provision of rights. Full relinquishing of power by the military is what the popular movement is insisting on in both countries.