Turkey loses strategic ally with the removal of Sudan’s Bashir

Turkey lost a strategic ally on Thursday when the Sudanese Army overthrew President Omar al-Bashir, a veteran leader Ankara had long relied on to increase its political and economic influence in Sudan and across Africa.

For Turkey, Sudan was an arena in which to engage in political and military adventures, pressure Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and boost its regional influence, making use of the situation at home in Sudan – Africa’s Food Basket – and abroad.

In an attempt to make up for the loss of his ally Bashir, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – whose supporters see as the leader of Islamic World – said: “My wish is that Sudan should succeed in this calmly … and I believe it should start operating the normal democratic process”. 

Apparently, Erdoğan was trying to establish for good relations with Sudan in the post-Bashir era, but his calm and diplomatic statements reflect deep concern, especially considering the often threatening and intimidating tone he uses with his foes, or those he describes as conspirators.

Turkey has increased its military presence in Sudan’s Suakin Island, through which it aims to restore the glory of the Ottoman Empire by establishing a foothold on the Red Sea that could threaten shipping therein. Turkey has also opened a military base in Sudan to train the Somali Army and a similar base in Qatar.

The Red Sea region and the Gulf of Aden is a strategic, economic and security priority for Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Israel, as well as other regional powers such as Turkey and Iran, and international powers like the United States and China.

Turkey has found a good opportunity there, taking advantage of the fragility of states in the region. That fragility resulted from internal disputes, lack of resources, poverty, and other factors that contributed to weakening central governments. These factors have also prompted countries to accept a foreign military presence and give economic influence to foreign stakeholders in return for economic and military aid.

As Sudan turns a new chapter in its history after the removal of Bashir, it put an end to three-decade failed project of political Islam. That Islamist project resulted in several crises in Sudan, divided the country, and led to civil wars that still have an impact.

Islamic history Expert Rasheed al-Kahyoun said, “a new stronghold of Islamist parties is diminishing,” referring to the removal of Bashir. “States and key figures have expressed their unease, and their frustration has appeared, because their Muslim Brotherhood project has deteriorated. Erdoğan, the so-called sultan of Muslims, has screamed,” he said.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during a rally for the upcoming local elections in Istanbul, Turkey, March 30, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during a rally for the upcoming local elections in Istanbul, Turkey, March 30, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Erdoğan’s government tried to make use of the Bashir’s Islamist regime, which was suffering from the impact of sanctions, to achieve malicious regional goals by putting pressure on Sudan’s neighbours, especially Egypt, after Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.

Erdoğan has also sought to use Sudan to put pressure on Saudi Arabia, a country that is challenging the Muslim Brotherhood-led brand of political Islam.

It is worth mentioning that any action taken by the army to protect state institutions, and fulfil the demands of the people, would upset Erdoğan. 

Erdoğan’s regime tried to make use of Bashir to empower political Islam. Ironically, political Islam was behind the separation of South Sudan, as well as civil war in Darfur, Kordofan, and other Sudanese regions.

Bashir led Sudan towards an extremist model of Islamist rule. In the 1990s, he hosted late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, before he expelled him under pressure from the United States.

The deposed Sudanese president sought to make use of regional and international differences to empower himself. In 2013, he welcomed the then-Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to Khartoum. Two years later, Bashir joined the Saudi-led alliance in the Yemeni war.

Bashir also courted Turkey and Russia, while in the meantime attempting to boost security cooperation with Washington in the hope of having sanctions lifted, as they were in 2017.

Bashir’s legacy will be his record of engaging in lengthy civil wars that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and ended in the loss of large amounts of territory and more than 70 percent of Sudan’s oil resources.

* The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.