Crown Prince and Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman in UAE
Sudan is witnessing a heated race between Gulf rivals, who are using their financial means to influence the country's future, according to analysts.
The race is manifested in financial aid and investments by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in one hand and Qatar on the other in an effort to gain a foothold in Sudan after the ouster of long-serving President Omar al-Bashir.
"Sudan is very important to both Gulf camps," Abdul Moniem Abu Idriss, an expert on the Horn of Africa affairs, told Anadolu Agency.
He said Gulf countries are seeking to have a role in Sudan – a Horn of Africa nation – as part of their effort to dominate the main route of international trade in the area.
Iran too, he said, is interested in Sudan "after it lost its influence in the wake of al-Bashir's ouster and wants to get back to the scene in Sudan, as well as China and others".
Abu Idriss believes that Sudan's Transitional Military Council (TMC), which took over from al-Bashir, is seeking to build strong relations with the Saudi camp.
"Sudan's new rulers have received $3 billion from Saudi Arabia and UAE and they are still sending more forces to fight alongside the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen against Houthi rebels," he said.
Last month, the TMC signed a power-sharing deal with the opposition Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) alliance to end months of political turmoil since al-Bashir's overthrow in April.
Experts believe that the Gulf rivals are using investments in Sudan to boost their influence in the post-Bashir era.
Both Riyadh and Doha have big investments in Sudan, especially in the fields of agriculture, mining, construction and oil.
According to a source with the Sudanese Bureau of Statistics, Saudi investments in Sudan are estimated at $12 billion, the UAE at $7 billion and Qatar at $4 billion.
The source, who was speaking anonymously, said both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have the potential to increase their investments due to their strong relations with Sudan's new rulers.
However, Qatar still has qualitative investments in major agricultural, mining and tourist projects in the country.
Last year, Qatar has won a tender for establishing a major tourist project on the Nile banks in Khartoum as well as several construction projects in different parts of Sudan.
Qatar is also carrying out farm investments through its “Hassad” company, which owned 260.000 acres in the River Nile state as well as having the privilege of mining for gold in seven fields throughout Sudan.
Sudanese agricultural expert Abdul-Latif Alugaimi believes that there is an increasing economic conflict of interests between Saudi Arabia and Qatar as the two camps are investing in the same fields in Sudan.
“The Gulf countries are looking at a very greedy way to Sudan to feed themselves and fill their potential food security gap in the future," he said.
Sudanese economist Kamal Karar blames the loans policy of al-Bashir's regime and TMC for allowing the Gulf states to dominate Sudan's economy.
"The race between the two sides and the tendency of our rulers to look after money to remain in power have caused to waste our resources and will lead to more losses unless we build a new economic policy through the new transitional government," he opined.
Race for ports
Political expert Salah Aldoma said Gulf rivals are also competing to control ports in Sudan.
"The UAE has seized many tenders for operating ports in Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia but they are facing rivalry from Qatar and other countries like China," he said. "As a result, Abu Dhabi has turned its attention to the Sudanese ports, but it failed so far to get foothold there."
Abu Idriss, the expert on the Horn of Africa affairs, warned that the race on ports between the Gulf rivals risks to draw the conflicts from the other side of the Red Sea to Sudan.
“The Horn of Africa region is going to suffer from this race for years to come," he said, warning that several countries are now building military bases in the Horn of Africa in an attempt to defend their interests.
"The UAE is having a military base in Assab [in Eritrea], in addition to China, which has sent 8,000 forces there and even Japan," he said.
"Sudan is important to all these powers and Qatar and UAE are already trying to use their influence in this regard."
In 2018, Sudan signed a 4-billion-dollar agreement with Qatar for jointly managing and developing the Port of Suakin on the Red Sea.
Meanwhile, the Philippines-headquartered International Container Terminal Services Inc (ICTSI) got the right to operate part of Port Sudan terminals after bidding with companies from UAE, Malaysia, France and others. The deal, however, was suspended upon orders from al-Bashir after protests from workers at the port.
The head of the workers committee in Port Sudan, Mohamed Altahir, claimed that the UAE authorities had secretly made a sub-contract with ICTSI in an attempt to exclude Qatar from the deal.
"The Dubai Sea Port Corporation has secretly intervened through ICTSI to control operations in Port Sudan after Qatar won the right to manage the Suakin port," he said.
Relations between Sudan and Qatar have nosedived after al-Bashir's ouster in April after months of mass protests against his 30-year rule.
Although the Sudanese Foreign Ministry has denied the reports, a Sudanese diplomat told Anadolu Agency that the Sudanese-Qatari relations have deteriorated due to pressure from Saudi Arabia and UAE.
"It is clear that ties between Sudan and Qatar have become lukewarm since al-Bashir's overthrow," the diplomat said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
He said al-Bashir's visit to Qatar and Russia in his last days in power was one of the reasons of the Saudi-UAE support for the military's move to remove him from power.
"The TMC has clearly showed that it is siding with the Saudi-UAE camp as they removed many Islamist officers believed to be close to Qatar from the military council in May," he added.