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Israeli normalisation prompts Sudan to revoke citizenship of Palestinians

December 22, 2020 at 10:02 am

Exiled Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal (R) sits next to former Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir during the opening of the eighth Al-Quds (Jerusalem) International Foundation conference in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on 6 March 2011 [EBRAHIM HAMID/AFP via Getty Images]

In a surprise move, the ruling military regime in Sudan announced its intention ten days ago to revoke the Sudanese citizenship of more than 3,500 people, of whom the majority are Palestinians. The former head of the Hamas Political Bureau, Khaled Meshaal, and the speaker of the Tunisian parliament, Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of the Islamic Ennahda Movement, are among those losing their Sudanese citizenship.

This controversial step follows the US Congress vote last week to remove Sudan from the list of states sponsoring terrorism, which itself was preceded by a decision by the regime in Khartoum to normalise relations with Israel. This raises questions about the future of Sudan in the post-normalisation phase. While the Sudanese regime remained silent about this sudden development, the Ministry of the Interior confirmed the issuance of Resolution 521 revoking the citizenship of 112 individuals, as well as administrative and legal decisions and measures regarding the revocation of decisions to grant citizenship to 3,500 people between 1989 and 2019.

A number of Palestinians affected by the decision confirmed to me the decision to revoke the citizenship of 3,000 Palestinians who were granted it by a decree issued by former President Omar Al-Bashir in 2014. They also pointed out that most of them live outside the country and, it is alleged, did not submit all of the necessary supporting documents for their citizenship; that is the pretence for the revocation. This has caused some anxiety within the Palestinian community living in Sudan, with questions about whether the matter was limited to an administrative issue or has political connotations that may lead to all Palestinians being deported from the country, which has been a safe haven with special privileges not found in other Arab states.

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“The decision of the Military Council paves the way for the revocation of Sudanese citizenship of those associated with Islamist and political currents, regardless of the conditions for eligibility to obtain it,” explained one Palestinian who lives in Sudan. “Ever since the overthrow of the Bashir regime in 2019, and the Council’s assumption of power, many Palestinians here have been warned that things are out of control and that their stay in Sudan is no longer safe. They were also warned that sooner or later, the Military Council would issue a decision to remove the Sudanese cover from all naturalised individuals who cause it embarrassment with Western countries, or regional countries opposed to Islamists.”

Although there are 6,000 naturalised Palestinians in Sudan, fewer than 200 obtained citizenship after fulfilling the state’s residency requirements. It is believed that the decision to revoke citizenship will include all who obtained it during Bashir’s presidency. The local Palestinians in Sudan also fear that the decision will expand to include the closure of charities whose work focuses on supporting students and families in need.

Sudanese protesters shout slogans during a rally to denounce Israel's treatment of Palestinians on 11 August 2014 in Khartoum, Sudan [ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images]

Sudanese protesters shout slogans during a rally to denounce Israel’s treatment of Palestinians
on 11 August 2014 in Khartoum, Sudan [ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images]

The repercussions of the Military Council’s decision will be disastrous for the Palestinians, as naturalised individuals do not need to obtain a residency permit. If they all lose their citizenship, they will be living in Sudan illegally and will face legal action and deportation.

Sudan is surrounded by countries that have full relations with Israel: Egypt, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Israel has been concerned that Khartoum is not within its sphere of influence, so the establishment of diplomatic relations with Sudan has been a priority, not least to try to stop the flow of weapons to Hamas in Gaza using tracking technology.

Having relations with Sudan doesn’t mean that Israel will be able to cut off the supply of weapons to Hamas completely. Iran, which supplies the weapons to the resistance movement, will find new ways to overcome any expected Sudanese disruption, as it has a lot of experience as well as regional land and sea connections to enable the delivery of weapons to Gaza.

Cutting the supply chain has been a security priority for Israel for many years. In March 2014, the Israeli navy intercepted a ship in international waters between Sudan and Eritrea heading to Gaza and carrying a shipment of sophisticated Iranian weapons, including dozens of ground-to-ground missiles with a range of 100 km.

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In December 2012, Israel accused Sudan of allowing Iran to use its ports to transport military supplies to Hamas in Gaza, and in 2010, the Egyptian army intensified its deployment on the borders of Sudan to prevent the smuggling of weapons. In January 2009, Israeli aircraft bombed an arms convoy of 17 trucks in Sudan en route from Iran to Gaza.

Hamas has realised since 2016 that Sudan no longer tolerates its use as a route to smuggle Iranian weapons into Gaza. At that time, Israel called on the US and European countries to improve relations with Sudan after severing ties with Tehran and preventing the smuggling of weapons through its territory to Hamas.

It is telling that the normalisation with Sudan is led on the Israeli side by Yossi Cohen, the head of the Mossad spy agency. This is what gives the decision to revoke citizenship from Palestinians a serious security aspect. Hence, Hamas’s political rejection of the normalisation of Sudanese-Israeli relations has to be added to the security and military implications for its supply of weapons. This will require the movement to liaise with Iran to find new smuggling routes to compensate for the loss of Sudan.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.