Arab League Summit Fails to Address Algerian Political Instability
When Arab nations came together in Tunisia’s capital for the 30th Arab League summit on March 31, a few nations were notably missing. This included President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria and President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, who were both facing calls to resign. Bouteflika submitted his resignation on Apr. 2 after weeks of protests that took place across Algeria.
Bouteflika, who is 82 years old and has been president since 1999, met harsh backlash and protests after announcing his intention to run for a fifth term. After reversing his announcement to run, he delayed an election that was set for April, exacerbating fears that he would try to hold onto power. Bouteflika’s party and the military have been accused of using Bouteflika as a figurehead to stay in power.
Although Bouteflika agreed to step down, protesters want assurance that the power structures in place will also be dismantled. One member of a student union in Algiers, Mohamed, told Al Jazeera that Bouteflika’s departure “does not change anything. He will leave but the same regime, which has ruled Algeria since 1962 and...will [remain in power] if we don't continue to protest. What we want is not only Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down, but we also want the creation of a new political system.”
The group of people in power are made up primarily of veterans from Algeria’s war of independence, wealthy businessmen, and Bouteflika’s relatives. Last month, Bouteflika announced a national conference to work on reforms for Algeria’s political system with the aim of creating a draft constitution subject to a popular referendum.
Instead of addressing the protests in Algeria and Bouteflika’s resignation, the Arab League summit focused on other major events and issues that the Middle East is collectively trying to address. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi condemned US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, while Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi highlighted the significance of the Palestinian cause to the Arab world.
Other issues discussed at the summit include the Syrian and Yemeni civil wars and the consequent refugee crises. However, political issues such as Bouteflika’s regime and protests against Sudanese President al-Bashir are not being addressed. The lack of discussion around political change is similar to the lack-luster reaction from the Arab League during the Arab Spring in 2011.
The Arab League has been criticized for being beholden to the ruling elites rather than working on issues that affect the Arab people. Sean Yom, assistant professor of political science at Temple University, called the summit a “pageantry of attendees,” adding that “if we define the Arab League by its imperative of fostering regional cohesion and resolving inter-Arab disputes, it has clearly failed.”