Bloated bodies in the Nile show Sudan protesters were right to fear the arrival of Saudi and UAE money

The US has found itself in an even more embarrassing situation than it did in Egypt

Robert Fisk
Monday 10 June 2019 17:09 BST
Civilians rushed into hospitals as Sudanese forces violently clear sit-in

The Sudanese democracy demonstrators were the first to protest at Saudi Arabia’s interference in their revolution. We all knew that the Saudis and the Emiratis had been funnelling millions of dollars into the regime of Omar al-Bashir, wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court and now chucked out of power by a Sisi-like military cabal. But it was the sit-in protesters who first thought up the slogan: “We do not want Saudi aid even if we have to eat beans and falafel!”

It was shouted, of course, along with the more familiar chants of ‘revolution of the people”.

Few noticed this little development – save, to give it credit, The Washington Post – but the dozens of waterlogged bodies being dragged from the Nile should focus our attention on the support which the Emiratis and especially the Saudis are now lavishing upon the pseudo-transitional military government in Sudan.

We should not be surprised. The frequent judicial head-chopping of Saudi prisoners after travesty trials, then the chopped-up remains of an executed Saudi journalist and now the decaying Sudanese corpses sloshing along the longest river in Africa – along with the Saudi-Emirati assault on Yemen and the subsequent slaughter – possess a kind of gruesome familiarity. Political problems resolved by cruel death.

What the hundreds of thousands of protesters, now hiding from the ruthlessness of the killer-militias unleashed by the new and supposedly temporary regime, want to know is simple – and it’s not whether Omar al-Bashir will go for trial.

The protesters want answers about the true nature of the relationship between the Gulf states and two men: the “Rapid Support Forces” commander, the frightening Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo – aka “Hemeti” – and Abdul Fattah al-Burhan, the theoretical head of the military council which took over the country after they overthrew Bashir. Both men recently visited the Gulf states – and the Sudanese who were camped out in their capital want to know why Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates promised $3bn (£2.7bn) in aid to the transitional government.

Hence their preference for beans and falafel – the chickpea-filled patty which probably originated in Egypt – rather than Saudi cash. But talking of Egypt, the Sudanese also realise that their own new and revolutionary experience in demanding Bashir’s overthrow along with civilian rulers who will arrange democratic elections has some remarkable parallels with the experience of Cairo’s demonstrators after 2011.

Mubarak was the “Omar Bashir” of Egypt, of course, and General Mohamed Tantawi, Egyptian head of the supreme council of the armed forces military council, the Scaf (the job of which was to safeguard future elections, needless to say), played the role of Burhan, now head of Sudan’s military council. Real elections did give Egypt almost a year of rule by the freely elected if deeply flawed Muslim Brotherhood-dominated presidency of Mohamed Morsi – until General, soon to be Field Marshal, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi staged a military coup, restored dictatorship and received – surprise, surprise – vast economic assistance from Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.

The hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who staged the revolution against Mubarak have either been killed, fled, gone to ground or been arrested by the Egyptian security services. So no wonder would-be Sudanese revolutionaries – even though they would see their role as mere protesters for democracy – are fearful that they will soon suffer the same fate, and that those generous Gulf monarchies are about to strike again with more support for Burhan and his unpleasant companion.

Sisi himself chaired an emergency session of the African Union which gave Burhan’s military council three more months to arrange its “handover” to civilian power. If the Saudis helped Sisi in Egypt with their immense wealth, why not Burhan? What was the $3bn for, other than to prop up Burhan’s own regime – brought to power by national protests over Sudan’s bankrupt economy.

Sudan, specifically militias led by the disreputable and extremely dangerous Dagolo – more than 10,000 men, some of them guilty of war crimes in Darfur – have been fighting for the Saudis against the Houthis in Yemen. And Dagolo, according to Al Jazeera, met the Saudi crown prince early in May and promised to support the kingdom against “all threats and attacks from Iran and Houthi militias”. He would continue, he allegedly promised, to send Sudanese forces to help Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

Burhan recruited many of the Sudanese who went to fight in Yemen – a large number of whom had been under Dagolo’s command. So is it any surprise that Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman would want to continue his relationship with Dagolo? Anything would be better than parliamentary democracy in Sudan – especially of the Muslim Brotherhood kind which ruled Egypt after Mubarak.

Amid this potential act of “backstabbery” towards the protesters, the US has found itself in an even more embarrassing situation than it did in Egypt. The then-secretary of state, Hilary Clinton, continued to support the fading Mubarak regime until Barack Obama finally decided that his days were numbered. Then he welcomed Mohamed Morsi – but didn’t know whether to call Sisi’s subsequent coup a coup. To his credit, John McCain immediately said that it was.

Now, save for vague suggestions from the Trump administration that it condemns violence in Sudan, there has been no serious policy statement on the massive upheaval in the country. The US wants democracy in Sudan – presumably, because that is what its own government supposedly stands for in all nations – but everyone knows that Trump, in his perverse view of the world, regards the Saudi crown prince as a trusted ally – despite the murder of Jamal Kashoggi – and Sisi as “a great guy”.

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As one former US assistant secretary of state told Foreign Policy magazine: “The leaders and governments of Saudi Arabia, [the] UAE and Egypt do not share our fundamental democratic values, and their views on what should happen in Sudan diverge significantly from the policies the United States should be pursuing.”

The EU, naturally enough, is keen as mustard on democratic elections, but – though it does not say so – is rather worried that the old ruling party, with its political machinery still in place – might win. Either way, the Gulf states and Egypt don’t want democracy in Sudan.

Are they so powerful that they can ensure the revolution will fail? Or so frightened of the influence of a Sudanese democracy on their own autocracies that the revolution must fail? The heaps of corpses stacked up in Cairo after Sisi crushed Morsi and the Brotherhood, the beheading of Shiite militants in Saudi Arabia, the chopping-up of Jamal Kashoggi and the Nile-dumping of Sudanese protesters show clearly that the forces which want to crush any revolution in Sudan will brook no opposition.

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