What you need to know:
Don’t underrate Saudi Arabia’s and UAE’s destructive influence in the Arab world.
They hold sway with Donald Trump, who swoons over their limitless petrodollars.
- He has allowed them to continue prosecuting a genocidal war in Yemen against Shia rebels who are backed by Iran.
It helps hugely that Trump, prompted by Israel, doesn’t like Iran either.
The standoff between the Sudanese military and civilian protesters climaxed last Monday morning in deadly shootings. Some say 30 unarmed civilians were left dead. Others put the casualty figure at 60, even higher. Nobody knows for sure. The only certain fact is that the weeks-long sit-in the protesters had staged outside the Army headquarters in Khartoum had ended in a massacre.
The Arab world, of which Sudan militantly claims to belong, has a record of aborted revolutions. It started well, with mass demonstrations that forced the army to depose its long-serving benefactor, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. The junta that took power then reached out to the leaders of the civilian demonstrators, and a tentative plan was drawn up for a three-year transitional period ahead of elections. In the meantime, the military and the civilian leadership would share power. Talks deadlocked over the exact details of the power sharing.
Now everything has gone haywire. The junta has cancelled all further talks. It has also abrogated all prior agreements with the civilian representative body, the Sudanese Professional Alliance (SPA). It has further unilaterally announced elections will be held within nine months. That is too short a period for SPA to organise itself and offer credible participation. It’s not even clear who the junta will allow to take part.
It’s a virtual ambush. The SPA now sees the junta as the face of Bashir in disguise. There’s a malevolent hand – or hands - knowledgeable people see behind this vicious counter-revolution. These are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The trio have become the most reactionary forces in the Middle East, determined to snuff out any whiff of mass action or reincarnation of the 2010/11 Arab Spring uprisings. Prior to Monday’s crackdown, the Sudan junta leadership had toured all three countries and evidently was assured of support, and more likely goaded to take the action the junta soon took. Saudi Arabia and UAE had earlier extended $3 billion to the junta to replenish Sudan’s nearly empty coffers, thus signalling their support for the junta and any move it would wish to take against the protesters. They had splashed out similar largesse after 2013 to Egyptian Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi when he overthrew the Islamist government of Mohammed Morsy, a child of the Arab Spring.
Don’t underrate Saudi Arabia’s and UAE’s destructive influence in the Arab world. They hold sway with Donald Trump, who swoons over their limitless petrodollars. He has allowed them to continue prosecuting a genocidal war in Yemen against Shia rebels who are backed by Iran, a country the Saudis and Emiratis are insanely paranoid about. It helps hugely that Trump, prompted by Israel, doesn’t like Iran either.
Gen. Bashir’s story holds a paradox. He took power in 1989 in a coup inspired by the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood, which has become synonymous with Islamists who make Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE see red. Even after he later fell out with the Sorbonne-educated Islamist ideologue Hassan al-Tourabi, who provided the ideological underpinnings of his early regime, Bashir opted to keep his Islamist links open.
That became a problem when Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE forcefully moved against the Muslim Brotherhood in the wake of the Arab Spring. Sudan had kept close ties with the very rich emirate of Qatar, but this became untenable after Saudi Arabia and UAE accused the Persian Gulf statelet of having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and to Iran. Since 2017, the two have enforced a total blockade on Qatar, which the little but savvy state has circumvented through help from Turkey, Oman and – yes – Iran.
The UN Security Council held a meeting last week on Sudan. Another session is scheduled next Tuesday. The usual loud condemnations will ensue. European and – aha – African countries are aghast at the Sudanese situation. Still, don’t hold your breath on the African Union doing much, with President al-Sisi as the current chairman. He will no doubt back the junta. The Europeans will probably firm up on sanctions, but they will be ineffectual if the United States doesn’t back them. Chances are America will act wishy-washy, prompted by that nasty threesome – Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE. Worse, the other two UN Security Council permanent powers, Russia and China, will oppose any resolution censuring the Sudanese junta. They like to propagate the mantra that those are internal state affairs.
As for Bashir, perish the thought that the junta will extradite him to The Hague. The Number Two and acknowledged hardliner in the junta, Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, is linked to the Janjaweeed militia that Bashir used to deploy to cause havoc in Darfur. So is the paramilitary Rapid Support Force that was the army’s instrument to crush the Sudanese civilian protesters. Gen. Hamdan is its commander.