Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1357, (17 - 23 August 2017)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1357, (17 - 23 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Sudan returns to the fold?

The announcement that Sudan will have observer status in upcoming US-Egyptian war games appears confirmation of an oncoming thaw between Khartoum and Washington, writes Haitham Nouri

 

Sudan returns to the fold?
Sudan returns to the fold?

اقرأ باللغة العربية


Sudan and the US continue to draw closer, with Khartoum receiving an invitation to participate in the US-Egyptian military games known as Bright Star, as an observer. It has only been a few weeks since Washington decided to postpone lifting sanctions on Sudan for another three months.

Lieutenant General Emadeddin Al-Adawi, chairman of the Sudanese military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Sudanese army received an invitation to participate in Bright Star exercises in Egypt in October. The invitation arrived after talks in Khartoum with Alexander Laskaris, deputy to the commander of the US AFRICOM. Al-Adawi said the visit “opened the door for dialogue on more military cooperation and repairing relations between Sudan and the US”.

According to reports by the Sudanese Media Centre, which is close to the regime, Laskaris met with Sudanese Defence Minister Awad bin Ouf, Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour and Director of Intelligence and Security Services Atta Al-Moula Abbas. The agenda included regional issues such as stability in Libya, South Sudan, Somalia and Central Africa. Sudan’s Foreign Ministry said views expressed on Libya were “identical” and the two sides are cooperating on Somalia.

A statement by the Sudanese Defence Ministry said the meeting came after cooperation between the Sudanese and US armies in Africa. It added there is also joint understanding on combating terrorism and human trafficking.

Some in the West accuse Khartoum of cooperating with Islamist groups listed as terrorist, and it “has not done much to end the fighting” in civil war regions in Sudan, including Darfur, Nuba Mountains and South Blue Nile. Khartoum denies these accusations.

This is the first time that Sudan participates in military games in 32 years, and will only be involved as an observer. The military leadership hopes it will fully paricipate in coming years.

Brigadier General Ahmed Khalifa Al-Shami, spokesman for the Sudanese Armed Forces, said Sudanese soldiers and chiefs of staff will participate in preparing and judging the war games. “Of course, we will benefit from participating,” Al-Shami said. “It is added experience for participating officers.”

In July, the US postponed for another three months lifting sanctions on Sudan because of Khartoum’s human rights and civil war records. Sanctions began under Bill Clinton when his administration added Sudan on the list of states sponsoring terrorism in 1993, and economic sanctions were imposed in 1997.

When Khartoum began talks in 2002 with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the main representative of South Sudanese citizens which fought a long war against Khartoum, Washington linked sanctions to progress in Sudan’s peace process (as per the Sudan Peace Act). According to estimates by Sudan’s Finance Ministry, sanctions amounted to $45 billion in losses, and hurt the oil, agriculture, transportation and infrastructure sectors.

Sudan’s economy suffers high inflation rates at 33 per cent this year alone, while large segments in society live in dire conditions after suffering under Africa’s longest civil war. In the summer of 2011, South Sudan seceded and took with it the North’s precious oil resources located in the South.

Participating in the largest Middle East war games comes after tensions escalated between Egypt and Sudan recently, after Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir announced his forces confiscated Egyptian cars and armoured vehicles in the hands of those whom Khartoum views as rebels in Darfur in the West. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is trying to ease tensions between Sudan and the US, and lift US sanctions on Khartoum.

Sudan is participating in the Saudi-led coalition of Arab countries in Yemen, even after Qatar was removed from the alliance. Observers believe Saudi Arabia wants to ease US sanctions against Sudan to maintain the cohesion of the coalition supporting Riyadh against Iran, and in turn Qatar. Sudan supported Saudi Arabia in its dispute with Iran since the start by closing cultural centres and downsizing Iran’s diplomatic mission in Sudan, despite two decades of alliance between Tehran and Khartoum.

Nonetheless, Sudan remains “neutral” in the unprecedented quarrel between Riyadh and Doha. Many believe Sudan’s position is rooted in the fact that the Islamists scorned by Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt are the main supporters of the regime that has been in power since 1989.

Al-Haj Warraq, a leading leftist figure and editor-in-chief of Hurriyat (Freedoms) website, argues that Bashir’s regime relies on a simple formula, namely that Gulf assitance cannot compensate for the support of political Islamists to the regime, especially since the government is fighting several civil wars against people viewed as non-Arabs and a threat to Arab control of Sudan. “But this formula could change if Khartoum reaches a settlement with Washington, including Bashir’s status, whether to put him on trial or not, and the safety of a considerable number of his officials,” Warraq noted.

Saudi Arabia wants to calm tensions between Cairo and Khartoum, which is also Egypt’s goal since Sudan is important in negotiations on the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam, should not be manipulated in the Qatari crisis, or become a backdoor haven for Muslim Brotherhood refugees. Sudan welcomed only 500 members of the group listed as terrorist by Egypt, but then expelled dozens of them.

Meanwhile, Bashir is expected to visit Moscow after an invitation by President Vladimir Putin, which Khartoum views as a breakthrough and a return to the international fold. Warraq asserts, however, the visit is not a breakthrough because relations between Khartoum and Moscow always remained robust. Sudan benefited from Russian weapons in its war with South Sudan, especially in the 1990s. In fact, Russia and China supported Sudan in the Security Council and blocked resolutions that could have been even more harmful.

“Attending Bright Star will further distance Khartoum from the Doha camp,” stated Warraq. “Or at least it no longer stays neutral. This breakthrough happened with the help of Saudi Arabia.”

The move is a serious step in rapprochement with the US and could change Sudan’s political rhetoric from “resistence” to accord, and possibly even alliance.

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