The Attempts Of Gulf Countries To Exert Influence On Sudan
The Sovereignty Council of Sudan has received $1.5 billion from Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as promised, following the overthrow of then-President Omar Al-Bashir in April 2019. The overall amount guaranteed by Gulf Countries comprises $3 billion, with the remaining part being paid by the end of 2020.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE, waited for Al-Bashir’s ousting to carry out their projects, though they were devising plans over Sudan since US engagement in the country diminished as well-demonstrated by the end of US sanctions and the pledged removal from Washington’s terrorism list. While in exile in Sudan, Osama Bin Laden developed his terrorist campaign, settling his headquarter in Khartoum. Besides, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its 2019 report found Sudan, as a “country of particular concern” due to the religious coercion Muslim minorities and non-Muslims have to cope with. Washington’s conduct towards Sudan is still unclear, as it endorses the current and former heads of Sudan’s national security agency, responsible for torture and other abuses.
On top of that, the USCIRF report evaluates freedom of speech in Sudan as highly compromised, whereas the ruling party brutally suppressed peaceful protests and freedom of assembly. Between 2018 and 2019, rallies rose across the country, as government bread subsidy cuts inflamed public opinion, already frustrated with the economic crisis, high fuel prices, and US sanctions. Although the debt crisis was partly due to South Sudan’s secession in 2011 depriving Khartoum of oil production’s revenue, US sanctions greatly contributed to the recession and impacted Sudan’s international trading. Gold prices plunged in 2012, creating the subsequent inflation as the government paid gold to commodity brokers above its market price. The gold represented 40% of Sudanese exports.
The 2018-2019 wave of protests
Yet it was not the first time Al-Bashir faced street protests, the new demonstrations occurred at the president’s fortifications by protesters targeting government party offices. Police and security services such as the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) restricted their intervention in suppressing rallies, and in doing so, they kick-started the downfall of Al-Bashir after 30 years of arbitrary power. Protests gathered supporters from various social classes, including left parties, trade bodies, and professional associations. By the end of December 2018, 37 demonstrators died in the demonstrations. Following the revolution, a 7-member Transitional Military Council (TMC) led by Lt-Gen Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan, took power. In August 2019, the TMC to the Sovereignty transferred the power to the Council of Sudan, with Abdalla Hamdok as Prime Minister. The new transitional government settled a power-sharing system in which military forces and opposition balanced each other as the country’s rulers.
Sudan’s attractiveness is explained by its proximity to the Gulf of Suez, hence to Suez Canal, a pivotal hub in the Middle East on a par with the Strait of Hormuz, on which Tehran exercises a tight control. Egypt committed itself to attracting foreign investments in the Suez Canal Area Development Project (SCADP) by receiving $150 billion from the UAE, France, Italy, Saudi Arabia, and China. The canal corridor yields $5 billion per year, as its shipment route connects Europe to Asia, involving 10% of global trade. Sudan, along with Somalia, Eritrea, and Djibouti, has a significant weightiness in a geopolitical outlook as its shores have a quick access to the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb, which Saudi Arabia aims at monitoring to contrast Iranian influence in Yemen. In truth, Saudi Arabia and UAE’s law enforcement action against Iran unfolds the purposes behind the war in Yemen; it started in 2015 to obstruct the Houthis group yet inherently isolate Iran in both the Horn and Yemen.
A doorway into Sudan’s political and economic dynamics came with the ouster of Al-Bashir, whom Sudanese have always deemed to be the main responsible for international isolation and the lack of foreign investments. Al-Bashir’s dismissal has not meant a progression in the human rights process, as proven by the June 3rd massacre occurred in Khartoum, causing the death of 127 protesters. Although forces of TMC perpetrated the massacre, the international community believes Saudi Arabia and UAE played a deciding role in it.
This argument is corroborated by the close relationship between Gulf countries and the Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (“Hemetti”), the deputy leader of the TMC who acted as the real leader. Hemmetti’s militias (RSF) fought in Yemen in 2015, along with the UAE and Saudi Arabia coalition. In return to his commitment, Hemmetti received a considerable compensation from the coalition, which partly explains the current alliance between TMC and Gulf countries. A meeting in June between Hemetti and Saudi Arabian Prince, Mohamed Bin Salman, set forth the alliance amid both countries, with a pledge from Sudan to maintain its military commitment in Yemen.
Besides, Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, stated Sudan requires up to $10 billion to cease the stagnation the country is experiencing. If international actors like the EU and the US won’t undertake actions in this respect by proposing a set of economic measures, Sudan has to address its pleas to its wealthiest neighbours. In this connection, Middle East monarchies have over one reason to support the military junta, such as the fear that the echoes of civil rights’ establishments based on the ground of a constitutional state, could “attain” Saudi Arabia sea-lanes, spreading a harmful desire for equality among the population. Hence, economical aids to the current government are dire, as a push on the civic process was started by overthrowing Al-Bashir and in hindering democracy’s thwarters.