What is behind Sudanese President Bashir’s visit to Syria? - İBRAHIM TIĞLI

What is behind Sudanese President Bashir’s visit to Syria?

The president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, became the first Arab leader to visit Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011.

The Sudan News Agency deemed the visit as strengthening the relations between the two countries and discussing the developments in the region in its headlines. However, it will later be revealed that this meeting lasted longer than it was said to have, and that many other issues were also discussed. It is clear that this visit was not only made in the name of Sudan. It is a reality that Bashir was also there on behalf of Arab countries that try to assume new roles in the Syrian civil war within the knowledge of Saudi Arabia.

With this visit, before anything else, Bashir is breaking the negative perception of the other Arab countries toward Assad and expressing that a new era is beginning between Assad’s Syria and Arab countries. From now on, this path laid by Sudan will be tread by others, and Arab leaders will no longer question Assad’s legitimacy. Whether Assad is a legitimate leader or whether he declared war on his people and killed hundreds of thousands of them doesn’t concern Bashir anyway. He is also accused of similar actions in Darfur and even a lawsuit was filed against him in the International Criminal Court.

In Turkey, some circles who are pro-Assad strangely bear a grudge against Bashir. These circles, which even opposed Bashir’s visit to Turkey, stated that the government shouldn’t establish a dialogue with him. In fact, the Arab leaders are not so different: they care more about sustaining their own administration than their people, because the people who don’t freely vote for them have no value in their eyes. They are not accountable to their people; the people they answer to are quite obvious as we see in the example of Saudi Arabia.

It seems that Bashir has fully engaged himself in the Arab cause with this visit. He defends the commitment of the Assad administration to Arab principles by stating that, despite the civil war, weakening Syria means weakening the Arab cause. He seems to forget whether any Arab principles remain after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

First of all, this visit was made within the knowledge of Saudi Arabia. It is not possible to go across the Red Sea without informing Saudi Arabia anyway. Although it is one of the states that support Saudi Arabia’s invasion of Yemen, we can say that relations with Iran also continues through Sudan. We shouldn’t forget the fact that although Sudan supports Saudi’s policies in Yemen, it is one of the countries that still maintains its relations with Iran at top levels.

Regarding the clear aspects of this visit, we can comment that al-Bashir’s visit to Russia and Syria shows that he is joining the Russia-Iran axis in the Syrian issue. While doing this, he is also being careful not to scare Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. While Sudan is getting closer to the Syria-Iran-Russia axis, it’s not cutting its ties with the Sunni Arab world. In the words of Sudan’s foreign minister, they are following a multilateral foreign policy.

Bashir’s attempt to establish a dialogue with Syria will lead other Arab countries to reconsider their relations with Damascus, pave the way for them to consider Bashar Assad as a legitimate leader and they will try to rebuild their relationships with Syria. Earlier, Nezavisimaya, a Russian newspaper, wrote that there have been ongoing negotiations between authorities from the UAE and representatives from Syria, claiming that the UAE plans to reopen its embassy in the country. Moreover, it even stated that diplomats from the UAE occasionally visit Damascus and meet with Syrian authorities, especially with Assad. This new process, in a way, is also a maneuver to isolate Turkey and Qatar in the region.

Russia has a part in this visit. It tries to pave the way to establish peace between Assad and Arab leaders and convince them to support him. What forced Bashir under the same umbrella with Russia and Iran are the economic conditions of his country. Sudan’s administration, which couldn’t get enough support from the U.S., is cozying up to the enemy in an attempt to save itself.

For a long time Russia has been desiring to establish its influence in Central Africa. It attaches a particular importance to the Central African Republic and prepares to send soldiers to the country. They have commercial, strategic and energy plans across the Central African axis. While it is establishing its influence in the Central African Republic, getting support from Sudan requires that the new political status quo in the region isn’t centered around the U.S. and France anymore. Russia is aware that assuming a determining role in Central Africa goes through Sudan and Chad.

We can evaluate Sudan’s Syria move as a foreseeable surprise. The country, which is strategically the most important but economically the most fragile one among Arab countries, made its move to approach Assad. What did Bashir gain in exchange for this visit? First of all, even though he hasn’t declared his candidacy for the elections that are going to take place in 2020, he guaranteed his or his candidate’s victory. Sudan, which has been going through economic problems after South Sudan’s secession, will be relieved with the help coming from Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, and thus will overcome the elections without having any problems. In every election, there are two tactics that Bashir resorts to, seeking a way to cooperate with the opposition and easing the economic problems of Sudan’s people.

The people of Sudan, despite the South’s secession and the economic problems of the country, continued supporting Bashir. What are they going to do now? We will wait and see


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