Arab League Chief Goes to Sudan, but Empty-Handed

(Cairo) The Arab League has finally stepped into the Sudanese crisis, after a long silence and absence. Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul Gheit paid a visit to Sudanese capital, Khartoum on June 16, hoping to turn his pan-Arab organization into a main player on the Sudanese stage, for the first time since the downfall of the regime of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir on April 11.

Abul Gheit met several Sudanese political figures, including representatives of the Freedom and Chance Forces Coalition, the main opposition group in Sudan. He also met leaders of the Transitional Military Council, including council head Abdul Fattah al-Burhan.

The visit of the Arab League’s chief to Sudan is a turning point, not for the Sudanese political crisis, but for the league itself. Over the past years, the league with 22 member states, preferred to take a backseat and let international players manage the situation in Arab countries. This was and continues to be particularly so in Arab states that burst in violence and unrest since the eruption of the series of uprisings that came later to be known as the “Arab Spring”.

The Cairo-based pan-Arab body, which was founded in 1945, plays no role whatsoever in Syria where the Syrian army fights a long list of terrorist organizations, in many cases considered as national opposition. Russia, the US, Iran and Turkey do. The league plays no role whatsoever in Libya where two armies and two governments fight each other, opening the door for major international terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and al-Qaeda, to take root and grow. Libya’s neighboring countries: Turkey, Italy, France, Egypt and Russia do.

The league remained silent all through the months of protests that led to Bashir’s ousting by the army in April. Its silence in the months that followed the downfall of the longtime Sudanese ruler was an opportunity for a large number of regional and international powers to play a role on the Sudanese stage.

Abul Gheit’s visit to Khartoum followed a visit to the Sudanese capital by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Ethiopia’s mediation is bearing fruit after a representative of the Ethiopian premier had succeeded in convincing the Sudanese opposition to suspend a state of nationwide civil disobedience and accept to return to the negotiating table with Sudan’s military rulers.

Negotiations between the two sides came to a screeching halt on June 3, after dozens of Sudanese civilians were killed in the dispersal by the army of a major protest camp outside the army command in central Khartoum.

Ethiopia says it will hand the Sudanese opposition and the military council a proposal for solving the Sudanese crisis within the coming few hours, or days. If they accept to move ahead with settling the crisis, Sudanese parties will sign an agreement on the formation of an interim civilian authority and a sovereign council to rule Sudan, Ethiopia said. Following his meeting with Burhan, Abul Gheit said his organization would work to ensure Sudan’s stability.

“We want to make sure that the crisis in Sudan will be settled in a political manner,” the Arab League chief said. He added that he felt optimistic about settling the Sudanese crisis. Nevertheless, the Arab League does not seem to have an initiative for solving the crisis or bringing Sudanese rivals back to the negotiating table. Abul Gheit was empty-handed when he visited Khartoum. He also left it empty-handed.

Observers also say that the league will face so many hindrances on the road if it wants to play a role in Sudan. One of the hindrances, they add, is that few in Sudan have confidence in an organization that fails Arab peoples, especially at their times of need.