Destabilizing speculation

Geostrategic dimensions of the latest unrest in Sudan

A view of the street during the unrest in Khartoum, Sudan on October 25, 2021. / Getty

A view of the street during the unrest in Khartoum, Sudan on October 25, 2021. / Getty

Editor’s Note: Andrew Korybko is an American political analyst based in Moscow. The article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of CGTN.

Sudan experienced its second unrest in two years on October 25 after the armed forces seized power and dissolved the Joint Civil-Military Sovereign Council that was supposed to transfer power to civilian control by next month. The first recent disturbances in memory came in 2019 after the military ousted longtime former leader Omar al-Bashir, who himself came to power during unrest in 1989, following protests in large scale against his scheme that were carried out by their participants. desire for political and economic reform.

The latest disturbances arise after similar manifestations motivated by the same reasons. Several coup attempts have taken place since then, the most recent of which took place last month. It also happened just after US special envoy to the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman left Khartoum, sparking speculation among some that America could be behind this latest regime change. , which resulted in the suspension of Sudan from the African Union. For what it’s worth, the United States has officially condemned the unrest and suspended $ 700 million in emergency aid to the country.

There are key players in Sudanese stability, which is why the events that have just unfolded there could have important geostrategic dimensions. This country has only recently emerged from Western isolation in recent years after former President Omar al-Bashir joined the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The United States had designated Sudan as a “state sponsor of terrorism” in 1993 for supporting Palestinian armed groups and hosting Osama bin Laden. In response, Sudan has moved closer to China, Russia and, reportedly, Iran for some time.

Joining the Saudi-led war in Yemen brought Sudan closer to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) close to the United States, which led the country to sever ties with Iran in January 2016 in solidarity with Riyadh, and served as an icebreaker to unofficially initiate talks with the United States. After Bashir’s ouster, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates quickly intervened to provide the new Sudanese military authorities with much-needed assistance. This could be interpreted as a reward for firing the man who supported their enemies from the Muslim Brotherhood.

This does not automatically mean that they were the source of the 2019 unrest, but it nevertheless advanced their regional security interests in this regard. The close Egyptian partner of the GCC, neighbor of Sudan and which is currently led by its former commander-in-chief who overthrew the former Muslim Brotherhood allied government of the late Mohamed Morsi in 2013 must also have been satisfied with this development for similar reasons. . Quite naturally, Sudan therefore strengthened its relations with the GCC and Egypt after the 2019 unrest.

Sudanese take to the streets amid unrest in Khartoum, Sudan on October 25, 2021. / Getty

Sudanese take to the streets amid unrest in Khartoum, Sudan on October 25, 2021. / Getty

He also struck a US-mediated deal to normalize relations with Israel last year, following in the footsteps of GCC members Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, which was predeceased by Egypt decades earlier. . America finally removed Sudan from its list of “sponsor states of terrorism” last December, which was likely a quid pro quo for Bashir’s withdrawal by the military and their deal with Israel two months earlier. As it stands, there is no reason to expect these policies to change after the latest unrest.

Ties with China are also expected to remain strong, as their cooperation under the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) is mutually beneficial. They were not negatively affected after the 2019 unrest and likely won’t be negatively affected by the latter. These economic relations can help Sudan balance the West (US / Israel), the Middle East (GCC / Egypt) and the East (China). What is less certain, however, is how relations with neighboring Ethiopia and Sudan’s close Russian partner will evolve after the unrest.

Sudan shares Egypt’s concerns regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). They fear Ethiopia will use this megaproject to cut off the flow of the Nile to their countries, a charge Addis Ababa denies. In addition, a border dispute was recently revived between Sudan and Ethiopia in the context of the latter’s ongoing counterterrorism operations in its northern region of Tigray which borders Sudan and which began in November 2020. The United States claim Ethiopia is carrying out “ethnic cleansing” there, which he also denies.

A US-based Horn of Africa analyst told the BBC on Monday that “the West may consider creating a humanitarian corridor to Tigray from Sudan or declaring a no-fly zone.” Such a scenario, which the new Sudanese military authorities could see as a strategic compromise to reduce Western pressure against them after their latest turmoil, would be destabilizing at the regional level. As for ties with Russia, those same authorities could haggle over its already uncertain Red Sea naval base in exchange for the same relief from Western pressure.

With these geostrategic dimensions in mind, a general forecast can be made on post-unrest Sudan. Its Western, Middle Eastern and Eastern foreign policy vectors are unlikely to change, while its relations with Ethiopia and Russia could deteriorate amid a Machiavellian compromise. The military authorities urgently need to stabilize the domestic situation, which may require an authoritarian approach that is not aligned with Western values, but the promotion of American interests vis-à-vis these two countries could deter its critics and gain its tacit support.

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