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Regional powers stick with Bashir as Sudan protests mount
January 13, 2019
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KHARTOUM: As angry protests pile pressure on Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir to step down, key powers are standing by his regime to ensure stability in a strife-torn region, analysts say.

Demonstrations that erupted in the provinces last month after the government tripled the price of bread have escalated into nationwide protests that analysts say pose the biggest challenge to Bashir since he took power in a coup in 1989.

But despite bloodshed that Sudanese authorities say has claimed 22 lives, outside players ranging from Gulf countries to major powers China, Russia and the United States all see an interest in the 75-year-old staying at the helm.

“All camps in the region seem to favour continuity. They believe that any other alternative might not be favourable to them and to the region,” said Abdelwahab Al Affendi, author and an academic at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies.

Egypt, which has deep historical ties with Sudan, has called repeatedly for stability in its southern neighbour, with its commanding position on the Nile on whose waters they both depend.

“Egypt fully supports the security and stability of Sudan, which is integral to Egypt’s national security,” President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi told a top Bashir aide who visited Cairo last week.

Days earlier, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry expressed confidence that Sudan would “overcome the present situation.”

Relations between Cairo and Khartoum had deteriorated sharply in 2017 over territorial disputes, but in recent months the two governments have ironed out their differences, with Sudan even lifting a 17-month ban on Egyptian agricultural produce.

Arab governments have scrambled to provide support, anxious to avoid any repetition of the upheavals that rocked the region in 2011.

“There has been evidence of tangible support to Bashir... be it from Egypt, Saudi or Qatar,” said Affendi.

“These allies are against any kind of successful uprising. They feel that if it happens, then they will be next,” he said, adding that the Arab Spring has not been forgotten.

During his long years in power, Bashir has built up relations with all of the region’s bickering diplomatic players, through a string of sometimes spectacular foreign policy twists.

Just days before the protests erupted, he travelled to meet Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in the first visit to Damascus by any Arab leader since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011.

“His foreign policy is in all directions driven by economic pressures,” said a European diplomat on condition of anonymity.

The regime hosted Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in the 1990s, and then developed ties with Shiite Iran before severing them in 2016.

In October 2017, increased cooperation with Washington helped Khartoum get a decades-old US trade embargo lifted.

Washington has still kept Sudan on its blacklist of “state sponsors of terrorism” along with Iran, North Korea and Syria.

And although the US and the European Union do not openly back Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges including genocide in Darfur, they work with Khartoum to ensure that “Sudan remains stable”, the diplomat said.

Any kind of instability in Sudan could trigger a new wave of Sudanese migrants headed towards Europe, he added.

Agence France-Presse

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