There are at least a dozen reasons, some fictitious, why Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) appears reluctant to give up power, but protest groups are becoming increasingly aware that the two major Gulf states – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – and Egypt have a vested interest in ensuring the army remains in power. With the scheduled visit of the Deputy President, Mohammed Hamdan, of the Military Council to Saudi Arabia yesterday, press reports have surfaced about the Gulf’s intervention to derail the agreement struck between the TMC and the protest groups led by Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF).
The collapse of the negotiations early this week over the composition of the Sovereign Council was notable for the lack of public pronouncements of regret from neither Riyadh, Abu Dhabi nor Cairo. However, allegations in an article published by the New Arab news outlet today appear to confirm that three states directly intervened to not only prevent the civilian takeover of the Sovereign Council but also to set aside the agreements reached over the make-up of the legislative ruling body and the council of ministers.
At the same time, the countries went ahead with deposits of $250 million to prop up Sudan’s ailing economy with a promise of up to $3 billion in the months to come. Observers are certain that the funding is partly an insurance policy to guarantee the continued presence of 6,000 Sudanese troops fighting in the war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen and to minimise the influence of political parties during the transitional period over foreign policy.
Until recently, the two rich Gulf states and Egypt were reluctant to fully put weight behind the military fearful that the army contained remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood – a movement despised and outlawed in the three countries. On 5 May, Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, blamed the turmoil on Sudan’s Islamic Movement, “[it’s] important to remember that current political discontent in Sudan is primarily rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood’s long military rule,” he wrote in a tweet.
Furthermore, in announcing the desire for Islamic Law to form the basis of the interim constitution, the Gulf States are reported to have felt “uneasy and uncertain” about Sudan’s chosen political direction. However, sources with knowledge of events say assurances given by, no less than, Sudan’s former Intelligence Chief, Salah Abdullah “Gosh” to the two donors have been enough to allay fears about the Islamic orientation of the army; in particularly the Rapid Support Forces set up by deposed president Al-Bashir and led by Mohammed Hamden Daglu, the now deputy president of the TMC.
To what extent Abdullah is still involved in the corridors of power remains a matter of great speculation. Unconfirmed media reports suggested that Abdullah had snuck out of Sudan, possibly on a foreign passport and made his way to the United States and the Emirates to reassure the concerned parties that a “hardline” Islamic army was unlikely to resurface. However, sources say Abdullah did not leave the country but remains under “house arrest”. It follows reports this week that security guards at his residence in Khartoum prevented the Prosecutor General’s office from executing an arrest warrant against him on suspicion of managing a personal private account to the tune of $1 million.
Nevertheless, in continuing with the war in Yemen, Saudi and Emirates want Sudan to politically support their stance against Qatar in the Gulf crisis and would like Khartoum to distance itself from Turkey. Ankara’s possession of the island of Suakin remains of great concern to the two Gulf states and Egypt who fear that there are plans afoot to build a Turkish military base. Various sources suggested that the TMC has asked Ankara to vacate the island, but the claim was denied by Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hami Aksoy, who said at the end of April, “ the reports alleging that the deal between Turkey and Sudan for the reconstruction and restoration of the historic Suakin island on the Red Sea coast could be cancelled do not reflect the truth.”
The presence of troops in Yemen and the Turkish forces in Suakin are viewed by the Sudanese public as unwarranted and unnecessary. Protest groups advocate a non-interventionist more neutral stance in the region in order to concentrate resources on the country’s redevelopment. However, despite the pressure on the army from international and regional bodies such as the African and European Unions, the American Congress and the US, UK and Norway – Troika group, the TMC appears to have decided to respond favourably to its Gulf allies.
In the press conference yesterday, the army again stressed, if an agreement could not be reached with the protest groups, it would move ahead to call free, transparent and fair elections in as little as three or six months or even a year. Such a move would completely derail attempts to root out the remnants of the old regime, who might reappear in a different form. However, the army’s decision is quietly being viewed by the Gulf and Egypt as ample time to install an elected government completely beholden to their regional interests.