FILE - People carry national flags and banners during a protest calling on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to quit, in Algiers, Algeria, March 26, 2019.
FILE - People carry national flags and banners during a protest calling on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to quit, in Algiers, Algeria, March 26, 2019.

ROME - Are anti-government protests in Algeria the herald of an Arab-spring sequel? Some regional autocrats appear to fear so and are cracking down on even the mildest of dissent, say analysts.

For weeks now in Algeria, tens of thousands of protesters drawn from all walks of life have been chanting the Arab-spring mantra, “The people want the regime to go.”

Their hopes of seeing an end to the 20-year-long autocratic rule of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who’s rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, have been boosted in the past 24 hours by the intervention of the Algerian army.

FILE - Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika meets with Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaid Salah in Algiers, Algeria, in this handout still image taken from a TV footage released on March 11, 2019.
Algerian Army Chief Wants President Declared Unfit to Lead
Algerian Army Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaid Salah, widely considered the country's main powerbroker, told cadets during a nationally televised speech that ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika should be declared "incapacitated," triggering article 102 of the constitution, in order to find a peaceful solution to the current political crisis.Should the article be enacted, the head of parliament would take over as acting head of state for 45 days, before the president is officially determined to be…

Algeria's army chief of staff demanded Tuesday the president be declared unfit to rule, saying he considered the people's demands to be valid and that the presidency should be vacated. “We must find a way out of this crisis immediately, within the constitutional framework,” said Gen. Ahmed Gaed Salah, speaking on national television.

The protests against Bouteflika began last month after the president said he planned to stand for a fifth term.

But it isn’t only in Algeria that protesters in North Africa and the Middle East are venting their anger and once again taking to the streets to demand change.

Demanding changes

Last month, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who’s been in powers for 30 years, imposed curfews, banned public-sector industrial strikes and gave security forces additional powers to quell protesters calling for an end to his rule.

Protests have also been staged in Iran, Tunisia, Iraq, Jordan and Morocco.

Tunisian teachers protest for better work conditions and higher wages,near the prime minister's office in Tunis, Tunisia, Feb. 6, 2019.
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And in the Gaza Strip, anti-Hamas protests have erupted recently against tax increases amid demands for better living conditions. Hamas, the militant Islamist movement that controls the coastal enclave has resorted to beating up and detaining demonstrators and arresting journalists.

“The conditions are there for the re-emergence of an ‘Arab uprising’ narrative,” according to Marc Lynch, a political scientist and author of the book "The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East." In a commentary, he added: “Many activists online have again attempted to craft one, built around solidarity among different Arab societies.”

The grievances now appear to be the same as those that fueled the Arab spring — lack of economic opportunity for the young, rising joblessness, stagnant economies, impoverishment and harsh security policies, say analysts.

Sudan’s latest protests were triggered by the government’s decision to triple bread prices. Food prices have jumped since January after the government stopped state-funded wheat imports.

FILE - Sudanese demonstrators run from a teargas canister fired by riot policemen to disperse them as they participate in anti-government protests in Omdurman and Khartoum, Sudan, Jan. 20, 2019.
Sudan's Parliament Cuts State of Emergency to 6 Months
Sudan's parliament voted on Monday to shorten from one year to six months a state of emergency declared by President Omar al-Bashir last month in response to widespread protests.Parliament can, however, renew the measure.Bashir declared the nationwide state of emergency, the first since 1999, on Feb. 22 to try to quell demonstrations that have posed the most serious challenge to his three-decade rule. …

Despite the lifting of U.S. economic sanctions on Sudan, the Sudanese pound has plunged in value against the dollar and international banks remain wary of doing business there.

Algeria has suffered economically with the halving of oil prices. Corruption has reached unprecedented levels and social inequality has increased. A quarter of Algerians under the age of 30 are unemployed and have little prospect of securing work.

As in the Arab spring, regimes have not been slow to crack down on the emerging protests, which as before appear spontaneous and are largely leaderless. Even mild, peaceful dissent is earning punishment. In Bahrain the relatives of an outspoken rights activist, who’s living in exile in Britain, have been jailed after being accused of planting a fake bomb in the kingdom. Rights groups and the United Nations say the case is trumped up and a means to take revenge on the exiled activist.

Different motives

But there are differences from the Arab spring, too.

Protesters in one country aren’t seeking solidarity with counterparts in neighboring countries in the way they did before. This is both a conscious choice, say some observers, as well as a reflection of how regimes are now better at policing the internet and social-media sites.

Another element that’s different is that Arab satellite channels are less forthright in their coverage of the demonstrations and are treating them as isolated local events rather than a regional phenomenon, according to Marc Lynch.

“Arabic broadcast and social media were key factors in transforming Tunisia’s and Egypt’s 2011 uprisings into broader Arab uprisings. Media allowed Arabs across the region to view events there as part of their own story,” he argued in a commentary for the Carnegie Endowment, a Washington DC-based think tank. “Broadcast media, above all Qatar’s pan-Arab satellite television station Al-Jazeera, were critical for bringing this protest narrative to a mass audience,” he says.

Protesters wave a flag commemorating the Feb. 20 Moroccan Arab Spring movement, during a demonstration in Rabat, Morocco, Feb. 20, 2019.
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Moroccan police fired water cannons at protesting teachers who were marching toward a royal palace and beat people with truncheons amid demonstrations around the capital Wednesday.Several demonstrations were held Wednesday, marking exactly eight years after the birth of a Moroccan Arab Spring protest movement that awakened a spirit of activism in this North African kingdom.Participants in the movement recalled to The Associated Press how it changed them, even as Wednesday's protests sharpened fears…

He believes the coverage is shaped by politics and that every regime in the region is anxious about an Arab spring sequel, understanding they all have something to lose. So they are all restraining their pan-Arab stations, even when it means losing the opportunity to embarrass regional foes and rivals.
Protesters seem to understand that. They are also being more controlled. In Algeria, anti-government activists are “aware of the risks of an escalation” and are being careful to remain non-violent, argues Youcef Bouandel, an academic at Qatar University.