It cannot have escaped the attention of observers that Sudan’s name has not yet officially been removed from America’s list of state sponsors of terrorism even though President Donald Trump has signalled to the US Senate his intention in this regard. It is also noted that normalisation of relations with Israel cannot happen without the approval of the Sudan’s National Assembly, which has yet to be convened.
So why the media and political frenzy about the proposed moves? It’s all about Trump and boosting his chance of an election victory. Three Arab League nations making peace with Israel and talk of more to follow is not only a major feather in his cap but will also galvanise Evangelical Christian voters who are fanatical in their support for the Zionist state.
To say that the Sudanese are divided on this issue, however, would be an understatement. There are some, like one ex-UN official known as Hafman, who believe that Sudan can no longer afford to be isolated. “If we don’t normalise,” he said, “there are going to be further divisions and perhaps a renewed war in our country, and the Sudanese people have suffered too much already.”
Hafman is partly correct when he says that not signing a normalisation agreement could have a negative effect on the security situation, not least because armed groups in Sudan are alleged to be supported by or have close ties with the Zionist state. In Darfur, sources told me that Abdul Wahid Annour of the Sudan Liberation Movement has stayed quiet about the peace process at the behest of Paris and Tel Aviv. The source, who requested anonymity, said that Annour’s position has caused a rift in the leadership of his SLM. Another source close to the Mini Minawi SLM faction told me that Annour will remain an obstacle to peace for “a long time to come.”
I have also been told that Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok was, at first, reluctant to agree to normalise, which is why Sudan suggested on two occasions that such a deal could not be ratified. Negotiations for the deal were almost derailed in the UAE when an American envoy laid down a plethora of demands. They included Sudan ending commercial ties with China, permitting the US to establish a military base in the east of the country and providing favourable citizenship terms for three million Palestinians to move to Sudan. Audio recordings posted on social media claim that the envoy had 47 demands with no promises of financial assistance in return.
However, the deciding factor for Hamdok — who was in danger of being sidelined — was the insistence by the generals that normalisation was a sovereignty and security issue that the President of the Sovereign Council, Abdul Fatah Al-Burhan, could agree along with the Prime Minister. It remains to be seen how long it will take for the sanctions to be lifted and whether or not Sudan genuinely made the normalisation conditional on parliamentary approval so that the agreement could be rescinded if voted down.Strictly speaking, Sudan was, until this latest agreement, officially at war with Israel following the Three Noes conference convened in Khartoum by the Arab League after the 1967 Six Day War: No to Peace, No to recognition, no to negotiation. The unannounced meeting between Al-Burhan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Entebbe in February changed all that.
Al Burhan is convinced that ending hostilities with Israel will encourage foreign investment in Sudan and return it to the fold of the international community. He appears to be adopting a “Sudan First” policy in which foreign relations are conducted with Sudanese interests uppermost in mind. The Deputy Leader of Sudan’s Liberal Party, Zakia Mohammed, welcomed normalisation on this basis. “The Sudanese people are suffering greatly, and all countries are trading with Israel, even Turkey with its Islamic slogans,” she pointed out. “We are the most in need of support among the rest of the countries in the world.”
Her words were echoed earlier this month by General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo (also known as Hemedti), deputy head of the Sudanese sovereign council who told a local television station that Sudan would benefit from the normalisation. “We need Israel… Israel is a developed country and the whole world is working with it.”
Meanwhile, opposition to the deal is growing. Sudan’s Ummah Party led by Sadiq Al-Mahdi said that it goes against Sudanese national law. “[Normalisation] contributes to the elimination of the peace project in the Middle East and prepares to ignite a new war.” The agreement with Israel, added Al-Mahdi, will jeopardise the authority of Sudan’s transitional government, a fragile coalition of civilian and military officials.
Observers and commentators such as Sudanese journalist Mekki El-Magroobi say that there is a danger that Israel will forge ahead with normalisation even though the lifting of sanctions might be opposed in the US Senate or may never come into law if the Democrats make Sudan a low priority. He points out that it is not only the lifting of sanctions that needs to happen, but also that the US Divestment Law, which effectively prevents business with Sudan, must be repealed. Without this, real economic change and sustainable peace may continue to be elusive.
It is clear, therefore, that the next few weeks may prove to be some of the most important days in the history of the Sudanese revolution. There is no doubt that normalisation with the Zionist state is a painful pill for the nation to swallow. However, at stake is the political and economic future of Sudan, which is eager to hang on to the gains made through the signing of the recent peace deal and simply cannot afford for peace to be threatened or unravelled.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.