Re­gional pow­ers stick with Bashir as protests mount

De­spite blood­shed that Su­danese author­i­ties say has claimed 22 lives, out­side play­ers Qatar and Saudi Ara­bia to ma­jor pow­ers China, Rus­sia and the United States all see an in­ter­est in the 75-year-old stay­ing at the helm

Times of Oman - - WORLD -

KHARTOUM: As an­gry protests pile pres­sure on Su­danese Pres­i­dent Omar Al Bashir to step down, key pow­ers are stand­ing by his regime to en­sure sta­bil­ity in a strife­torn re­gion, an­a­lysts say.

Demon­stra­tions that erupted in the prov­inces last month af­ter the gov­ern­ment tripled the price of bread have es­ca­lated into na­tion­wide protests that an­a­lysts say pose the big­gest chal­lenge to Bashir since he took power in coup in 1989.

But de­spite blood­shed that Su­danese author­i­ties say has claimed 22 lives, out­side play­ers Qatar and Saudi Ara­bia to ma­jor pow­ers China, Rus­sia and the United States all see an in­ter­est in the 75-yearold stay­ing at the helm.

“All camps in the re­gion are at each other’s throat, but some­how they agree on Bashir,” said Ab­del­wa­hab Al Af­fendi, au­thor and an aca­demic at the Doha In­sti­tute for Grad­u­ate Stud­ies.

“They seem to favour con­ti­nu­ity. They believe that any other al­ter­na­tive might not be favourable to them and to the re­gion.”

Egypt, which has deep his­tor­i­cal ties with Su­dan, has called re­peat­edly for sta­bil­ity in its south­ern neigh­bour, with its com­mand­ing po­si­tion on the Nile on whose wa­ters they both de­pend.

“Egypt fully sup­ports the se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity of Su­dan, which is in­te­gral to Egypt’s na­tional se­cu­rity,” Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah Al Sisi told a top Bashir aide who vis­ited Cairo last week.

Days ear­lier, Egyp­tian For­eign Min­is­ter Sameh Shoukry ex­pressed con­fi­dence that Su­dan would “over­come the present sit­u­a­tion”.

Re­la­tions be­tween Cairo and Khartoum had de­te­ri­o­rated sharply in 2017 over ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes, but in re­cent months the two gov­ern­ments have ironed out their dif­fer­ences, with Su­dan even lift­ing a 17-month ban on Egyp­tian agri­cul­tural pro­duce.

Arab gov­ern­ments have scram­bled to pro­vide sup­port, anx­ious to avoid any rep­e­ti­tion of the up­heavals that rocked the re­gion in 2011. “There has been ev­i­dence of tan­gi­ble sup­port to Bashir... be it from Egypt, Saudi or Qatar,” said Af­fendi.

“These al­lies are against any kind of suc­cess­ful upris­ing. They feel that if it hap­pens, then they will be next,” he said, adding that the Arab Spring has not been for­got­ten.

Qatar’s ruler, His High­ness Sheikh Tamim bin Ha­mad Al Thani, called Bashir just days af­ter the protests erupted to of­fer his sup­port.

For­eign pol­icy

Dur­ing his long years in power, Bashir has built up re­la­tions with all of the re­gion’s diplo­matic play­ers, through a string of some­times spec­tac­u­lar for­eign pol­icy twists.

Just days be­fore the protests erupted, he trav­elled to meet Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar Al As­sad in the first visit to Da­m­as­cus by any Arab leader since the Syr­ian civil war erupted in 2011.

“His for­eign pol­icy is in all di­rec­tions driven by eco­nomic pres­sures,” said a Euro­pean diplo­mat on con­di­tion of anonymity.

The regime hosted Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in the 1990s, and then de­vel­oped ties with Iran be­fore sev­er­ing them in 2016. In Oc­to­ber 2017, in­creased co­op­er­a­tion with Wash­ing­ton helped Khartoum get a decades­old US trade em­bargo lifted.

Wash­ing­ton has still kept Su­dan on its black­list of “state spon­sors of ter­ror­ism” along with Iran, North Ko­rea and Syria.

And al­though the US and the Euro­pean Union do not openly back Bashir, who is wanted by the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court on war crimes charges in­clud­ing geno­cide in Dar­fur, they work with Khartoum to en­sure that “Su­dan re­mains stable”, the diplo­mat said. Any kind of in­sta­bil­ity in Su­dan could trig­ger a new wave of Su­danese mi­grants headed to­wards Eu­rope, he added.

Su­dan’s strate­gic lo­ca­tion in the Horn of Africa is a bless­ing for Bashir, said Amal el Taweel of the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Cen­tre for Po­lit­i­cal and Strate­gic Stud­ies.

“I think the in­ter­na­tional and re­gional pow­ers will not al­low Su­dan to fall,” she said.

“But a lot de­pends on how the bal­ance of power shifts on the streets,” she added.

“The world also doesn’t want to see an­other new bas­tion of hard­lin­ers that might be cre­ated if some­thing like this hap­pens.”

Bashir sur­prised the West when he dumped Tehran for Riyadh in 2016.

The shift was not just diplo­matic. The Su­danese leader also sent hun­dreds of troops to join the Saudi-led coali­tion bat­tling rebels in Yemen, in what he called an “ide­o­log­i­cal” de­ci­sion.

By do­ing so, Bashir sig­nalled to Gulf Arab monar­chies that he was an as­set in their strug­gle against Iran.

“In re­turn Saudi and the United Arab Emi­rates have given Bashir just about enough to stay afloat, al­though no an­nounce­ments have been made,” said Af­fendi, re­fer­ring to fi­nan­cial aid to Khartoum.

For in­ter­na­tional pow­ers like China, which has re­port­edly in­vested bil­lions of dol­lars in Su­dan, the coun­try of­fers a gate­way to the rest of the con­ti­nent.

“For coun­tries like China and Rus­sia, Su­dan is an en­try gate to Africa,” the for­eign diplo­mat said.

“Be it them or the West, no­body wants Su­dan to crum­ble.”

- AFP file photo

SHOW OF SUP­PORT: Sup­port­ers of Su­dan’s Pres­i­dent Omar Al Bashir wave Su­danese flags dur­ing a rally for him in the Green Square in the cap­i­tal Khartoum.

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