Some Khartoum politicians not pleased with historic announcement
US President Donald Trump’s Friday night announcement of a pending deal to normalize relations between Israel and Sudan sparked a mixed bag of reactions in the African nation.
Over the weekend, several prominent Sudanese officials voiced opposition to the reported agreement, claiming the transitional government currently in place in Khartoum had no legal powers to strike such deals and vowing to fight the decision.
The most vocal critic of the government’s stated intentions was former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, the last man to be democratically elected to the position prior to his ouster by the authoritarian Omar al-Bashir in 1989. Mahdi, who still heads the nation’s largest political party, slammed the move, warning that it “contradicts Sudanese national law” and would “ignit[e] … a new war.”
Other political actors, including several members of the Forces of Freedom and Change coalition which helped bring down Bashir in 2019, condemned the pending Israeli-Sudanese pact and threatened to form a united opposition group to battle the transitional government.
One [camp] is against the deal at this time and because of the circumstances. They feel that the new Sudanese government should not be pushed by Trump and others to dictate the country’s diplomatic relations
“There are broadly two camps [that oppose the agreement],” explains Dr. Annette Weber, senior researcher at the Middle East and Africa division of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
“One [camp] is against the deal at this time and because of the circumstances,” Dr. Weber told The Media Line. “This camp is mainly younger people and the civilians in the government and those who brought the revolution. They feel that the new Sudanese government should not be pushed by Trump and others to dictate the country’s diplomatic relations. They have no general problem with Israel but with the normalization as a precondition for the removal of Sudan from [the State Sponsors of Terrorism list].
“Also, because the parliament of Sudan is not yet functional, the feeling is that the decision was made without the mandate of the people.”
According to Weber, the second camp consists of Islamists, who oppose normalizing relations with the Jewish state of Israel out of ideological motives and see the move as a betrayal of their ideals.
On Saturday, dozens of Khartoum residents took to the streets, protesting Trump’s announcement of the imminent detente. The crowds expressed support for the people of Palestine and stressed their right for an independent state. The Palestinian Authority on Saturday accused Sudan of joining the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in forsaking the Palestinian cause.
Last month, Israel signed similar agreements with the two Gulf states, by which diplomatic and trade relations would be normalized after decades of public hostility.
Compared to the UAE or even Bahrain, there’s more work to be done [in Sudan] in terms of public opinion toward Israel
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“Compared to the UAE or even Bahrain, there’s more work to be done [in Sudan] in terms of public opinion toward Israel,” notes Dr. Yonatan Freeman of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, an international relations expert.
“Historically, the UAE had connections and business relations with the western world and informal relations with Israel. Sudan, on the other hand, was more hostile. So, the man on the street may not unequivocally accept relations with Israel as a positive change,” Freeman says.
The government of Hamdok could suffer and potentially be seriously weakened if there are protests and a large alliance go[es] against him and the deal. This could weaken the transition and ultimately the deal
Dr. Weber sees the public outcry over the deal as potentially problematic for the caretaker regime currently in charge.
“The government of Hamdok could suffer and potentially be seriously weakened if there are protests and a large alliance go[es] against him and the deal. This could weaken the transition and ultimately the deal,” she says.
“The Sudanese people feel that they should regulate their diplomatic relations. A more or less supportive position towards the normalization could turn into a negative [one], [if] it feels like [it is] enforced by US pressure. [T]his could turn the attitude against Israel again.”
On Friday, Trump held a joint phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Sudan Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Sudanese Transitional Council head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. During the conference call, plans to normalize relations between the longtime enemies were finalized.
Earlier on Friday, Washington announced it had removed Sudan from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, after Khartoum transferred $335 million in compensations to victims and families of victims of several 1990s terrorist attacks against American assets in Africa.
“Sudan does stand to gain in a number of fields” from a peace accord with Israel, Freeman says. “There is already some under-the-radar cooperation right now, on coronavirus treatment, medical equipment that is being sent there.
“Once a deal is struck, things like energy, effective water technology, agricultural innovation – these are all fields in which Israel can assist,” he explains.
Sudan, the largest country in Africa and in the Arab world prior to the cessation of South Sudan in 2011, is home to over 42 million people. During the 30-year military dictatorship of Bashir, close to half a million lives were lost in genocides, human rights violations and wars.
For years the country was considered by Israel and the US to be a haven for terrorist activities. It was placed on Washington’s list of terrorist sponsors in 1993, and later provided shelter to the perpetrators of the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and the 2000 USS Cole attack. According to reports, the Israeli military has in past years conducted airstrikes in Sudan, targeting Iranian weapon convoys.
But following the deposing of Bashir in April 2019, Sudan’s transitional government has steadily made advances toward the Western community, distancing itself from the Iranian coalition.