Saudi Arabia and the UAE work to gain confidence of new Sudan rulers

The quick expression of support for Burhan was meant to halt the potential grab of power in Sudan by radical Islamist groups and countries that back them.
Sunday 21/04/2019
Winds of change. Sudanese protesters rally outside the army headquarters in Khartoum, April 19. (AP)
Winds of change. Sudanese protesters rally outside the army headquarters in Khartoum, April 19. (AP)

LONDON - In a move intended to calm tensions while preserving geopolitical interests in Sudan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced support for Sudan’s Transitional Military Council.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi issued statements backing Sudanese Lieutenant-General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the Transitional Military Council (TMC) he is heading. The Gulf countries also pledged humanitarian aid for Sudan.

Experts said the quick expression of support for Burhan was meant to halt the potential grab of power in Sudan by radical Islamist groups and countries that back them.

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) officials pointed to the 2011 uprising in Egypt as an example of how popular sentiments can be channelled by certain groups towards their own ideological and political ends. The Muslim Brotherhood rode the wave of political protests that led to the ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to power in Cairo.

Sudan could follow a similar path because of its history with Muslim Brotherhood. Also significant are intentions of regional governments that support the Muslim Brotherhood, including Qatar and Turkey.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have tried to limit the influence of Islamist movements in Africa but have often gone up against manoeuvres by Qatar and Turkey.

The Turkish media, seen to be aligned with the government, quoted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as defending a theory that long-time Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was toppled in a coup orchestrated by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt to sabotage Turkish-Sudanese relations.

Sudanese TMC officials assured Riyadh and Abu Dhabi that Sudan would not recall the more than 3,000 members of Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces deployed as part of the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

“We are sticking to our commitments to the coalition and will keep our forces until the alliance achieves its objectives,” TMC Vice-Chairman Lieutenant-General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo said in an official statement.

While most media attention focused on Burhan, another important player in the Saudi-UAE-Sudanese axis is Major-General Taha Othman al-Hussein, who returned to Sudan on April 16 after two years in exile in Saudi Arabia.

Othman, a former Sudanese chief of staff under al-Bashir, moved to Saudi Arabia in June 2017 after an abrupt dismissal by the president.

Saudi newspaper Al Watan described Othman’s arrival as “a knockout blow to Qatar” and referred to him as “the architect of the commitment of the former Sudanese government to the Gulf axis led by Saudi Arabia.”

Qatari-aligned Al Khaleej published a report under the headline “Taha Othman: Would the UAE use him to infiltrate the military council in Sudan?”

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