What Algeria and Sudan Can Learn From Egypt

Lessons From a Failed Revolution

A protest in Algiers, June 2019 Ramzi Boudina / Reuters

Eight years after the Arab Spring transfixed the world, the Middle East has once again lit up with protest. In April, popular movements in Algeria and Sudan forced the ouster of two long-serving autocrats: Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who resigned on April 2, and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who was removed from power on April 11.

These uprisings show obvious parallels with the 2011 revolution in Egypt that led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. In both, youth movements, opposition parties, labor unions, and human rights organizations have banded together to oppose kleptocratic and repressive authoritarian regimes. These diverse coalitions have channeled local grievances about unemployment, inflation, and police abuse into clear calls for democratization and political reform. And in both Algeria and Sudan—as in Egypt in 2011—generals have intervened to usher the dictators out of office, only to find themselves in control of their countries’ postrevolutionary transitions.

These parallels are troubling, given how the story ended in Egypt. Following Mubarak’s ouster, a poorly conceived transition to democracy bred discord among Egypt’s revolutionaries, and their divisions paved the way for a 2013 counterrevolutionary coup that restored military rule. The architect of that coup, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, went on to declare himself president and establish a regime that is, if anything, more violent and repressive than the one toppled in 2011. Yet Egypt’s failed democratic experiment also provides lessons. As Algeria and Sudan take their first tentative steps toward democracy, they can draw on these lessons to help keep their own transitions on track.


One of the most important lessons from Egypt is that street protests have the power to influence the decisions of the military. After Egypt’s generals forced Mubarak aside and took control of the government, the civilian protesters who had occupied Cairo’s Tahrir Square—and provided the impetus for Mubarak’s resignation—faced a dilemma. Should they leave the square or continue protesting? The young activist leaders who had spearheaded the anti-Mubarak movement soon discovered that in

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