Sudan coup: generals and Islamists prevail in the Arab world

There has been a coup in Sudan. In a series of moves Monday morning straight out of the Arab takeover manual, Sudanese military forces stormed the country’s state broadcaster.
At an unspecified time, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and several of his ministers were detained by the military. The coup’s leader and apparent instigator, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, delivered a televised speech in which he announced that an “independent and fair representative government” would remain in power until the elections. , to be held in 2023.

The 14-member Sovereignty Council, which had acted as the collective head of state since the ouster of President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir in August 2019, has been dissolved by the military.

The council consisted of military and civilian members, chaired by al-Burhan himself. The vice president was General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commander of the army’s Rapid Support Forces. However, the two had been scheduled to hand over leadership of the council to civilian leaders in January 2022. The handover was stipulated by the 2019 draft constitutional declaration, which followed the overthrow of al-Bashir. This week’s coup nullifies this procedure, marking the beginning of full domination of the government by the armed forces.

So far, demonstrations against the coup have taken place in several cities, including the capital Khartoum. Several people have died. Hamdok has been released. The coup has been condemned by several Western countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, and a spokesman for the US State Department announced the freezing of $ 700 million in economic support for the country.

A roadblock catches fire during what the Information Ministry calls a military coup in Khartoum, Sudan, on October 25, 2021 (credit: REUTERS / EL TAYEB SIDDIG)

US-based Lebanese journalist Hussein Abdul Hussein noted in an article written in response to the coup and published on Tuesday: “Change has come to predominantly Arab countries in different shapes and forms … The result in all of these countries, however It has been the same: either the civil war or the reestablishment of the autocracy. “

Indeed, it is true that efforts to establish a stable and representative government in most Arabic-speaking countries have been universally unsuccessful. Hussein notes the “absence” of the “popular culture that can underpin the building and maintenance of a modern state.”

The forces of the Arab world committed to establishing a representative government remain weak and defeated.

In fact, in all Arab states, these weak groupings are pushed aside by the two powerful elements that are the only true competitors for power in the Arab world today: the forces of political Islam and those of the ancient and autocratic Arabs. . order, represented by the military and monarchies. This general rule is also visible in Sudan.

In my book The Transforming Fire, I wrote in 2011 that “for the moment, it is this order or the Islamists, there is no third way.” The statement was written on the eve of the Arab Spring. Nothing that happened in the following decade makes it necessary to review it. The coup in Sudan this week further confirms that the current options for government in the Arab world are generals and kings, or Islamists.

In Sudan, the Omar al-Bashir regime came to power in 1989 in alliance with Hassan Turabi’s Islamic National Islamic Front, influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood. The two parted ways a decade later, but al-Bashir maintained the pro-Islamist orientation of his regime.

Al-Bashir was domiciled in Osama bin-Laden in the 1990s. He also aligned closely with Iran, allowing Sudan to be used as a conduit for arms transfers to both Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Islamists controlled the army, intelligence services and other key ministries under Bashir.

Its fall in 2019 came after a failed attempt to realign Sudan’s regional stance in alliance with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. However, unwilling to eradicate the Islamist power of the government, or to back the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in their dispute with Qatar, al-Bashir was isolated, abandoned and later overthrown.

After a brief pause of mixed military and civilian rule, and hopes for a representative government, forces loyal to al-Bashir attempted a coup in September 2021 and were crushed. The pendulum has now returned to open the control of the military.

The pattern is observable throughout the Arab world. In Egypt, Islamists toppled a military regime in 2011, before being replaced by a new military regime in 2013.

In Tunisia, the military regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown in late 2010 and Ben Ali was replaced by an elected Islamist government. A period of relative stability followed, followed by less stability, and then President Kais Saed’s use of the army to shut down parliament in July, following violent anti-government demonstrations. From now on, Saed rules by decree, with the backing of the military.

In Libya, the western overthrow of military dictator Muammar Gaddafi led to the rise of a government dominated by Sunni Islamists in Tripoli. This government is now opposing a military uprising led by the Old Regime general Khalifa Haftar. As of now, this has led to the fragmentation of the country, with Haftar ruling a large enclave in the east of the country, from Tobruk.

In Syria, a Sunni Islamist uprising has been largely crushed by the Assad regime, with the help of Russia and Iran. An enclave controlled by Sunni Islamists backed by Turkey remains in the northwest.

In Yemen, the country has been divided into rival enclaves following the overthrow of a military dictator, controlled by Iranian-backed Shiite Islamists and the Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In Lebanon, an Iranian-backed Shiite Islamist force rules from the shell of formal representative government.

In Iraq, a similar effort by Iranian-backed forces is challenged by the power of local Shiite Islamist forces resisting the invading rule of Tehran.

And so on. This pattern is currently without exception in the Arab world: Islamists, or generals / monarchs, or wars between them. It has just been reasserted in Sudan, with the generals currently on the rise.

In parentheses, it should be noted that two partial exceptions, which exactly prove the rule, are the Kurdish enclaves in northern Syria and northern Iraq. In both areas a kind of authoritarian semi-democracy prevails. They demonstrate the rule because they are examples of non-Arab regional governance.

What implications does the Sudan coup and the broader pattern of which it is part have for Israel?

Regarding the former, Burhan met with then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February 2020. Burhan is close to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, with whom he enjoys a long friendship. His powerful deputy, General Mohamed Dagalo, meanwhile, enjoys the patronage of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The coup thus represents that regional element to which Israel is closest. There is no reason to assume negative effects for Jerusalem: “normalization” was proceeding slowly in Sudan in any case, but the coup will not divert it from its course.

Regarding the broader regional context: given the apparent lack of capacity in the Arab world for the development and consolidation of genuine representative institutions and civil society, the dominance of the authoritarian government over the Islamist insurgency and chaos is clearly preferable.

So Burhan’s coup follows the identifiable regional trend. It may be wise for the British, American and other Western governments currently condemning the coup to familiarize themselves with this reality. However, to expect this would be a display of a kind of utopian optimism that is most commonly found among advocates of democracy in the Arab world.

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