1 June 2019

Sudan Internationalized

Photo: Nation Media Group
Sudanese women wave flags during outside army headquarters in Khartoum.
opinion

Despite its geostrategic importance as a link between the Middle East and Africa, Sudan suffered the twin problems of an identity crisis as well as marginalization. The first contributed to its long running civil wars and instability, while the latter helped in pushing into the periphery.

When the popular uprising erupted back in December and continued for four months neither the regime nor the revolution forces received any regional or international support. Even the media coverage was scant, which shows how the country is marginalized and it has to go its way solo.

However, with the uprising succeeding in toppling former President Omar Al-Bashir things have changed. The geopolitical importance of the country has been highlighted and involuntary found itself in the midst of a regional rivalry and was taken to task by the African Union for not moving to transfer of power to a civilian administration.

In fact foreign intervention has a long history in Sudan for its failure to reach a deal to solve its nation building problems. The civil war that has been going on for 16 years in its first round, then was revived later to go on unabated for another 20 years. During the last one, Sudan was open to all sorts of foreign intervention and a number of countries with some interest in Sudan appointed special envoys that at one time reached nine envoys who started to meet to compare notes and plan their work.

But things are getting worse and started to slip out of hand. In the past there is a central government that regardless of its performance, but it has full control of power and was able to maneuver the way it likes.

The new intervention is something different that was intended basically to help the main parties conclude a deal that allows for setting and executive and legislative bodies and start up a 3-year interim period. In short helping Sudanese on how to rule themselves. It was the failure of the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) after two months of removing Al-Bashir to make a breakthrough, then came the bloody break-up of the sit-in on June 3rd to take the showdown to a new phase characterized by a state of no direct talks between the two.

It was the African Union (AU), who took the lead in forcing the TMC to hand over power using the stick of suspending Sudan's membership at the AU. The move represents a base of others to follow suit, namely the United States, who started to change its initial position of leaving the issue of Sudan to its regional friends in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but the breakup of the sit-in led to kindling some enthusiasm fueled by the congress and house. As a result Ambassador Donald Booth was recalled from the cold to take the post of special envoy, a post he occupied during Obama's second term.

According to Tibor Nagy, assistant secretary for African affairs Sudan faces four choices: either to have a deal between TMC and FFC to start a civilian-led interim period, or the Ingaz reproduces itself under new look or TMC decides unilaterally to set up a civilian government, or it goes from the brink and falls into anarchy, which will be a nightmare to both Egypt, who does not need another Libya and Ethiopia, who does not want to have another Somalia.

Those high stakes may help the regional and international mediators to put a serious effort that can bull Sudan away from the cliff. The four options detailed by Nagy are in fact one choice of the need to succeed in enabling both the TMC and FFC to work hard towards a sustainable deal. The country has crossed a Rubicon following the break-up of the sit-in, which ironically took more lives than those lost during the four months of crackdown by Al-Bashir. With its geostrategic location, Sudan is expected to have its impact its neighbors.

This growing interest regionally and internationally, some out of good intentions, other not, needs to be matched by a similar domestic interest and determination to forge ahead, overcome difference and make use of this renewed interest to navigate through the difficult issues of the interim period.

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