Sudan and Egypt have had disputes with one another over border issues and a related competition for natural resources for decades. These disputes have been compounded by Egypt’s close partnership with Saudi Arabia following the ascent of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in 2014. As it was not long after the arrival of Sisi in Cairo that Khartoum began gradually pivoting away from its pro-Riyadh alignment towards the Turkey-Qatar regional axis, one could have foreseen a possible new set of disputes developing between the traditionally conflicting neighbours.
Even so, Sudan retains decent enough relations with Riyadh although Khartoum’a regional political pivot was pointed out by geopolitical expert Andrew Korybko as being a possible proximate cause of attempts by foreign powers to use domestic discontent over economic uncertainty in Sudan in order to weaponize protests for a traditional “colour revolution”/regime change provocation. According to Korybko:
“Whoever the foreign forces behind this unrest may be, they aren’t targeting Sudan only because of its economic cooperation with Russia and political support to Syria since these are relatively recent developments whereas the ongoing developments evidently took some time to plan beforehand. The real reason why Sudan is under Hybrid War attack is because it’s gradually transitioning from the Saudi-led camp to the Turkish-Qatari one in what is increasingly becoming one of the New Cold War’s most impactful “defections” because of the far-reaching consequences that it could have for multipolarity.
Sudan’s geostrategic position makes it indispensable to China’s Silk Road vision for Africa, but it’s also of premier attractiveness for Turkey too after Ankara clinched a deal almost exactly 12 months ago to rebuild the Red Sea port of Suakin. This alarmed the GCC for a few reasons, not least of which is because Turkey is allied with Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s Qatari nemesis but also because Sudan is supposed to be their military ally in the War on Yemen. Khartoum reiterated its commitment to that conflict just a few days ago but then Qatar extended its full support to Sudan right afterwards”.
And yet, just when one would be tempted to think that Sudan’s pivot away from Riyadh and towards Egypt’s Qatari and Turkish rivals would see Cairo salivate at the prospect of instability in Sudan – the opposite has happened.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Intelligence Chief Gen. Abbas Kamel just visited Khartoum in an unusual display of solidarity with its neighbour to the south. According to Shoukry:
“Egypt is always ready to support Sudan and the ability of Sudanese people as per the government of Sudan’s vision and policies”.
Due to Egypt’s close relations with Riyadh, it would not be imprudent to assume that Cairo is also speaking for Saudi Arabia in terms of conveying sentiments that instability in Khartoum would be too much for the region to handle. At the same time, Sudan’s Qatari partners showed their support for President al-Bashir. Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani recently phoned al-Bashir to offer his nation’s support. According to an official statement form Doha:
“During the call Sheikh Tamim declared that his country stood by Sudan and was ready to offer everything necessary to help Sudan overcome this ordeal, stressing his keenness for the stability and security of Sudan”.
It can likewise be inferred that Qatar’s leader’s statements are shared by Sudan’s close Turkish partner as Turkey’s Daily Sabah (generally known for its pro-AK party editorial line) ran a headline about the story which read. “New chaos like in Sudan too much for region to manage“. The nature of the very well written Sabah article by Yusuf Selman İnanç makes it clear that Turkish intellectual opinion views Egypt’s statements regarding Khartoum positively in spite of persisting tensions between Ankara and Cairo.
Thus, in a region known for geopolitical feuds that often push for instability in rival nations, one is presently witnessing a rare meeting of the minds when it comes to encouraging calm in Sudan. This is self-evidently the case for the simple reason that the turbulence in Libya, Syria and Iraq at long last has apparently imbued governments across the Middle East, north Africa and western Eurasia with the notion that regime change in one country threatens political stability across many other nearby capitals.
When understood against this backdrop it is perhaps not surprising that Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir was the first foreign head of state from a member of the Arab League to call on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus – an event that was rapidly followed by the re-opening of both the Emirati and Bahrani embassies in Damascus. During al-Bashir’s visit to Syria, Turkey’s Foreign Minister also indicated that after new elections in Syria (which will likely take place in 2019), even Ankara may be wiling to re-engage in diplomatic relations with an Assad led Syria. In a further sign of realism becoming a prevailing theme in the region, on the 28th of December, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated that if another force neutralises the YPG/PKK terror group in the northern Syrian city of Manbij, Turkey would have no need to intervene. The clear implication is that if Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian Arab Army goes into Manbij city centre and dislodges YPG/PKK occupiers, Turkey will be content with the situation in spite of a well known rivalry between Assad and Erdoğan.
When taken as a whole, all of this shows that after decades of the United States and European nations exploiting political feuds and sectarian schisms in the wider Middle East in order to foment chaos, that the leaders of a highly diverse group of nations are coming towards a more pragmatic way of thinking about instability. This new mentality is more in line with the geopolitically laissez-faire diplomatic strategy of China and Russia as opposed to heavily interventionist approach of the US and its closest EU allies.
With chaos still rampant in many parts of the region, it seems that there now exists a desire among regional leaders to pull things back from the brink after years of indulging in American and European divide and rule tactics.