Will Sudan’s coup affect future ties with Israel? – opinion

The October 25 military coup in Sudan was surprisingly led by the current president, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the civil-military Sovereign Council formed to oversee the transition to democratic elections. The security forces placed Civil Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, Foreign Minister Mariam al-Mahdi and other senior administration officials under house arrest, and the military spread across the capital, Khartoum, and surrounded it with barricades. At least seven protesters were killed in the unrest that followed, some 140 were injured and many others were arrested. Internet services were blocked. Burhan issued a series of proclamations, dissolving the government and the unions and establishing a new government of technocrats, announcing in a speech to the nation that he would remain in power until the 2023 elections.
Hitting is not uncommon in Sudan. In fact, there have been no fewer than five successful coups since it gained independence in 1956. The power-sharing civic-military government was formed in 2019 after the overthrow of dictator Omar al-Bashir, who had ruled the country for 30 years. It was intended as a temporary compromise between senior military commanders and senior civilian leaders during a transitional period until the holding of elections in 2022. This shared power structure was intended to hinder the functioning of the state, but the desire to remove Sudan from the The deep economic and political crisis in which he was mired led rival factions to cooperate, at least temporarily.

The joint government was not popular. The military’s involvement was seen by many as a continuation of the Bashir government, despite Burhan’s assurances that his intention was to heal the economy and improve the observance of human rights. The civilian leadership under Hamdok was also unpopular due to its communist past. His declared plans to promote political liberalization and combat religious oppression were met with skepticism. He also failed in his attempts to end the tradition of Khitan, female genital mutilation, and to extradite Bashir to the International Court of Justice in The Hague to stand trial for crimes against humanity (especially the genocide in Darfur by militias. Janjaweed. Under his command).

Nonetheless, the government partnership managed to improve ties with Sudan’s neighbors, chief among them Egypt and South Sudan. In an unusual step, the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, was asked to mediate between the government of Khartoum and the rebel groups in Darfur, whom he convinced to join the government (under the “Juba Agreement” ). At the international level, the government pledged to fight terrorism and actually kept its promise, for example by expelling Hamas activists from Sudan about two weeks ago.

The United States and Western Europe embraced this double-headed government, realizing that internal stability in Sudan was an important aspect of regional stability. The Trump administration took the opportunity to clarify that the path to the West also passes through Israel. But the road to Washington also crossed Tel Aviv because the Sudanese government sought to remove the country from the list of states sponsoring terrorism in order to achieve international rehabilitation and qualify for loans and investments. For this he needed the support of Israel and the Jewish lobby in Washington. The initial change actually started under Bashir, who put to the test to determine whether a Sudanese-American-Israeli trilateral agreement was feasible.

Sudanese protesters shout slogans and wave flags during a rally honoring fallen protesters at Green Square in Khartoum, Sudan, on July 18, 2019 (Credit: REUTERS / MOHAMED NURELDIN ABDALLAH)

But real progress was only made in February 2020 with the meeting in Uganda between Burhan and then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. An Israeli statement after that meeting said a decision had been made on “cooperation leading to normalization between the two states.”

Hamdok, it should be noted, was initially not enthusiastic about the rapprochement with Israel, but various demands convinced him to follow the line taken by the military. And indeed, on October 23, 2020, following the signing of Israel’s normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Sudan also joined the Abraham Agreements. In exchange, the United States granted Sudan a loan of 1.2 billion dollars and, as promised, removed it from the list of states that sponsor terrorism.

The coup in Sudan could potentially deteriorate into more violence, not least due to its complex ethnic mosaic and tribal-affiliated social structure. Thus, for example, the Beja tribe in the east of the country could carry out its threat to secede from Sudan and thus isolate the vital seaport of Port Sudan from the capital. Several groups of rebels from Darfur, who were brought to the government with great effort, could also carry out their threat to form camps for their people in the Khartoum area. And, of course, the fighting between the military and civilians could deteriorate into an all-out civil war. What’s more, Qatar and Turkey were quick to jump into this seething cauldron in an attempt to strengthen their position in Africa (Turkey, for example, has already established a major bridgehead in Libya).

President Biden was quick to cut $ 700 million in aid to Sudan and advised Israel to freeze the normalization process, for now. The new US envoy to Sudan, Jeffrey Feltman, who happened to be in Khartoum a day before the coup, will be forced to go back there and see how the fire can be put out.

And what about the agreement between Israel and Sudan? Progress towards normalization, it seems, will have to wait for a more auspicious time. The signing of the agreement scheduled for next month in Washington will be postponed. However, given the military support for the Israeli deal to begin with, the coup is unlikely to affect change. Any government formed in Sudan will face economic difficulties, a challenge invariably linked to continued US aid and, indirectly, continued ties with Israel. Sudan is at a crossroads. Hopefully, it will take the easier route.

Professor Elie Podeh teaches in the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University and is a board member of Mitvim, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policy. Dr. Haim Koren is a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt and South Sudan and current professor at Reichman University.


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