The two-day visit to Khartoum by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to meet his Sudanese counterpart Omar Al-Bashir this week, marks a new phase in the relationship between the two countries. It also appears to affirm that a consensus on the Palestinian issue may have been given a new lease of life.
The relationship between the two countries dates back 500 years when the Ottoman Emperor Sultan Selim I and his army — equipped with the latest technology of the day, bayonets of gunpowder — crushed the sword-wielding forces of the 300-year Mamluk dynasty, just outside the Syrian city of Aleppo on 24 August 1516. The victory marked the beginning of the Ottoman conquest of Arab lands and led to a period of Islamic world dominance. Inadvertently, it set the stage for yesterday's historic meeting between the successor to the Ottomans and the inheritor of the ancient African Nilotic Kush civilisation.
Clearly, the two men and nations have taken divergent paths when dealing with international and domestic issues, but today Sudan and Turkey appear to be more ideologically matched than at any time in the recent past, and their alliance may prove to be key in applying a new dimension to the Palestine-Israel crisis. More than one hundred years after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and almost 60 years after the independence of the Republic of Sudan, Erdogan and Al-Bashir shook hands firmly on the tarmac at Khartoum International Airport in the middle of guests and dignitaries eager to be part of the historic event.
Just two weeks-ago, the two men were also together in Istanbul with other heads of state at the extraordinary summit called by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to reject US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Fifty years ago, it was Omar Al-Bashir's predecessors who presided over the Khartoum Summit convened by the Arab League in response to the crushing defeat of Arab armies at the hands of Israel in the Six-Day War. The 1967 summit passed a resolution proclaiming no to peace with the Zionists, no to recognising the State of Israel and no to negotiations. Sudan's official position since then has been in support of the Saudi-backed Arab Peace Initiative, which proposes normalised relations with Israel in return for the complete withdrawal of occupation forces from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and most of East Jerusalem, along the 1949 Armistice Line, which was the de facto border in 1967.
Much has also changed on the Arab stance with regard to Palestine, but at Sunday's news conference the message from Erdogan and Al-Bashir was again another series of emphatic "noes" that seems to represent the view of most other countries around the world: No to Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital; no to the movement of embassies; and no to the effective takeover of Islam's third holiest shrine, Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City. Erdogan reflected — understandably with a sense of satisfaction — on last week's non-binding UN General Assembly vote declaring Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel to be null and void; the vote was 128 in favour of the resolution, with 35 abstentions and only 9 countries voting against. The issue, he said, is one which affects humanity, not just Muslims.
Sources have told MEMO that the two leaders share the view that the issue of Jerusalem could result in a closing of the damaging Sunni and Shia divide. The two leaders have good relations with Tehran. MEMO has been informed that they are persuaded by President Hassan Rouhani's offer of unity on the Palestinian issue and intend to work towards achieving regional and world peace. The two sides understand that having a unified stance with Iran on the Palestine issue would put them on a collision course with the US insistence that Sunni states should view Tehran as an enemy and a threat to Israel's interests.
Many people regard Erdogan and Al-Bashir with respect for their pro-Palestine rhetoric and believe that they hold the key to galvanising global support for the cause. Sudan's Islamic movement controls up to 80 per cent of the government and regards the question of Jerusalem as a "red line", as do others. Prominent Muslim scholars refer to Erdogan in religious terms as a "reformer", the likes of which are promised to appear every hundred years according to some Islamic traditions.
For the moment, though, the priorities of Erdogan and Al-Bashir are to boost bilateral trade, help Turkey establish a foothold in Africa and continue to help each other on domestic issues. Erdogan's arrival at Khartoum Airport was preceded by that of 200 Turkish businessmen who have signed deals expected to boost the value of bilateral trade to over US$ 10 billion in the next ten years. Sudan is seen as a gateway to Africa helping Turkey to increase its diplomatic, military and economic presence across the continent. The strategy seems to be working; in 2005, Turkey had 12 embassies in African states, whereas it now has 39 major diplomatic missions.
For its part, Turkey has supported Sudan politically over the years in the efforts to get US sanctions lifted. The Turkish President and his government praised Sudan's defence of the state after the attempted coup on 15 July 2016. Under Ankara's direction, Sudan has closed schools once run by the FETO Gülen movement and helped to secure the arrest of Turkish nationals suspected of financing the movement's coup attempt.
The two-day visit ended on note of great optimism, not least for the economic future of the two nations. It also sent out signals of strong leadership that will be central to the direction taken by the Palestinian issue and the Muslim world in general.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.