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A new hope for ties with Israel: Areig Elhag on Sudan's view of the future

Updated: Nov 23, 2020

Sudanese activists at a rally (Courtesy)
Areig Elhaj has been a journalist for 14 years focusing on the Middle East. Originally from Sudan she concentrates on US national security policy and is planning to go into academia to complete a PhD focusing on the Horn of Africa. She provided us with her insights into Sudan today and the new wave of normalization with Israel.

Sudan is in the middle of a region with a lot of focus now in the world?

Now if you follow news there is a tension in Ethiopia.

Is this a new era?

I believe so. As I wrote, Sudan is different than UAE and Bahrain. You will see an acceptance, but you won’t find that in other countries, such as Egypt. People in Sudan are willing to have relations with Israel. There are kinds of initiatives in Sudan. There are businesspeople who would donate for forty people to go visit Israel. There are ties on social media. You will find Sudanese are very into this new era and new relations. You will find them attacking those who critique Sudan for this movement.

For instance one of the members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Kuwait said he suggested to stop dealing with Sudan’s government due to normalization. If you go to his Facebook you’ll find many Sudanese critiquing him. They put examples of him not speaking up when the Muslim Brotherhood did bad things, so they wonder why he is speaking about breaking relations with Sudan when Sudan suffered for more than 30 years. It is this kind of new environment now. You find many groups on Facebook pushing Israel-Sudanese friendship.

Now in Sudan, we have a new government. So the former leader Omar Bashir is in prison. There are two parts of the government. There is the Sovereignty Council and Prime Minister and his cabinet. This began with the sovereignty council, which is the military part. That is General Abdel Fattah al Burhan. When Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met and started negotiations, Israel began with the military part and that is scary for me, they ignored the civilian part of the government. Netanyahu had met in Uganda and the acting foreign minister was not aware of it. The spokesperson of the government had announced that the government had no idea. Netanyahu began that with the military part and for me it makes a change when they work with the civilian part. At the beginning it was unstable, but now going through the US umbrella with Trump’s involvement, I felt now it will be stable.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went to Sudan recently and that was an important visit Yes, very important.

I think there is a lot more excitement on both sides for peace, in Bahrain, UAE and Sudan? I think there is a good chance. Sudan has a bad economy, it is strained due to the previous government. If the US and Israel help Sudan, and these relations succeed then this will affect other countries. They have a big chance.

Do you see the Gulf (Bahrain, UAE) playing a positive role, all of them working together? The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain want this to succeed.

So investment from the Gulf and Israel? Yes I think so. They want to show other countries this is a good thing and they did the right thing. When Bahrain and UAE signed the Abraham Accords they wanted to show this will work, and so that is important that it works in Sudan.

What happens next? There has been an announcement that next month Sudan will have a chance for business for Israel in Sudan. For civil negotiations with Sudan. I will participate in coexistence meetings and I think we should encourage this normalization between the two countries.

They are hopeful?

I think there is already some business trip next week from Israel, so they began that. I was in Sudan last year.

What about Sudan’s neighbors? Yes there is dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia, and also troubles in South Sudan, and Egypt needs help from the US. There is economic crises in Sudan and it needs business and aid and experts.

And getting off the US terror list was important?

Yes. And also don’t forget Sudan needs to respect diversity and other religions, so it needs to show western countries that it respects everyone. So that is part of why it is also willing to normalize with Israel.

That’s a big change?

Yes. There is already a kind of agreement Israeli airplanes can use the airspace.

We don’t know what will happen next. I’m not sure. I’m concerned about other things, such as the transition to democracy. In 2022 there should be elections. Now we have a transitional government. In 2022 it should be a new democratic government, but we don’t have a history of democracy. We have had military power and if the US will not stay involved I am afraid we will have the scenario as Eritrea, a dictatorship. Omar Bashir tried to start a negotiation with Israel and have acceptance from the West. I believe Biden and his cabinet should ensure that the government in Sudan will be a democratic government.

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