Transitional gov’t in Sudan may reverse policies with Erdoğan’s Turkey

 

The ouster of Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir, a close ally of Turkish Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, following months-long popular protests has thrown the country’s growing relations with Turkey into uncertainty.

Apparently troubled by the developments in Sudan, Erdoğan lamented the ouster from power of his close brother during a joint news conference with the visiting president of Burkina Faso on Thursday, stating that the world is a strange place. He again targeted Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi without naming him or the country and criticized the West for embracing him after the coup.

The Erdoğan government has invested much in financial, technical and military aid to Sudan while trying to prop up Bashir’s ailing government against Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, a group of countries that have problems with Erdoğan due to his support for the Muslim Brotherhood network. In recent years, a flurry of bilateral visits and numerous bilateral agreements stand as testament to the growing and cozy ties between the two Islamist leaders, who often exploited religious sentiment for political goals and personal enrichment.

The propagandists of the Erdoğan regime were quick to brand the coup in Sudan the work of a collective effort by the United States, the Gulf nations, Egypt and Israel, and the front pages of newspapers aligned with Erdoğan declared that the coup in fact targeted Turkey and President Erdoğan, who supported al-Bashir. The frenzy of conspiracy theories, apparently fed by the ruling elite in Turkey, shows how the Erdoğan regime has grown insecure in recent years.

 

 

It is clear that Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are becoming more concerned that economic woes may exert more pressure on the government, especially after key battleground provinces were lost to the opposition in the recent local elections despite the huge advantage Erdoğan enjoyed financially and the round-the-clock media coverage favorable to him.

The question becomes how the transitional government in Sudan will assess relations with Turkey given the fact it desperately needs regional and international legitimacy as well as financial aid to survive amid mass protests. The odds are against Erdoğan, who has helped isolate Turkey in the region by taking on almost all its heavyweights, from Egypt to the Gulf states, and who has growing troubles with Western allies, especially the United States.

Although the transitional government declared that it would comply with agreements, treaties and conventions Sudan has signed, how it will treat existing agreements with Erdoğan’s Turkey remains unclear. There are articles in the existing agreements that allow Sudan to exit, suspend or render the agreement ineffective on the grounds of extraordinary conditions in Sudan. The key is whether the transitional government will continue with a High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council, which resulted in the signing of 12 cooperation agreements in Khartoum in December 2017, when Erdoğan visited the country, becoming the first-ever Turkish president to visit Sudan.

Perhaps the matter of Suakin Island, of which Turkey was granted use during Erdoğan’s visit, represents the most significant issue, and it will signal how the transitional government intends to pursue its relations with Turkey. Although details of the agreement were not made public, Erdoğan’s propagandists floated the idea of building a military base in Suakin, which sparked an outcry in Egypt and the Gulf over Turkish intentions. The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) has already started restoring buildings in the port, and plans are underway to modernize the port facilities. Erdoğan personally paid a visit to Suakin to survey those facilities.

 

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Another agreement that was signed during this visit was a military training cooperation agreement between Turkey and Sudan that actually carries the signature of Sudanese Minister of Defense Awad Ibn Ouf, who has been sworn in as chief of the new military council that has taken over from the ousted al-Bashir. The five-year agreement, signed on December 24, 2017, a copy of which was obtained by Nordic Monitor, covers a range of military cooperation activities. Its renewal is automatic unless either party decides to withdraw from it and notifies the other side in writing. Article 20 provides the option for either of them to drop the agreement at any time.

According to the agreement, the transitional government can recall its military personnel deployed in Turkey for training purposes and can invoke the extraordinary conditions clause in Article 10 of the agreement to withdraw its personnel.

Another agreement Sudan has with Turkey is the allocation of a large swath of land for agriculture purposes to a joint company that is under the control of the Erdoğan government. The agreement, signed on April 28, 2014, ceded territory in Sudan to Turkey for 99 years, and the transactions, activities and processes of the joint firm were exempted from any kind of tax, fee or duty within Sudan according to Article 1.

The joint company was initially founded with capitalization of $10 million, and the partnership stakes were 80 percent Turkey and 20 percent Sudan. Sudan’s share will be paid for by allocation of the land to the company. The company will be managed by an executive board of directors composed of five members to be elected according to the shares of the two sides. In other words, the chairman and deputy chairman of the executive board and the general manager of the company will be assigned by the Turkish side, while another deputy chairman of the executive board and deputy general director will be appointed by the Sudanese side.

A total of 793,000 hectares were allocated for the company in various parts of Sudan, including al-Gazeera (Abugota), Western Umm Durman and North Kordofan Blue Nile, Gedareef, Sinnar, Northern State (Dongola, Amri, Golid, Multaga) and Nile State Al Gazeera (Rahad Medani).

Erdoğan’s ally al-Bashir also helped him set up schools in Sudan to educate and train a new generation of Islamists while shutting down or transferring the best-performing science schools operated by civic group the Gülen movement there. It remains to be seen how the transitional government will treat Erdoğan’s long arm in Sudan, which has set up NGOs, companies and schools as fronts for spreading his own brand of Islamist ideology.

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