The military coup that deposed Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir may usher in a new era in Turkey-Sudan relations. The situation continues to be precarious in Sudan and the coup leaders seem to be hesitant about how to handle the demonstrators’ demands.
Major Arab countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates supported the April 11 military coup, each for different reasons:
Egypt regarded any form of Muslim Brotherhood government in Khartoum as a threat so relations remained lukewarm as long as the Muslim Brotherhood remained strong in Sudan. However, two financial supporters of Egypt, namely Saudi Arabia and the UAE, persuaded Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to maintain manageable relations with Sudan as long as Khartoum remained close to the Saudi-UAE fold.
The outcome of the Sudanese coup is not yet entirely clear. Sisi may have seen the popular demonstrations as a threat to the stability of his own country, but, relieved to see Bashir gone, he issued a statement supporting “the desires and rights of the Sudanese people”.
As long as the future government is not be tainted by any form of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt has an interest in maintaining friendly relations with Sudan.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE improved relations with Sudan when Bashir shifted sides and decided to join Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. This was followed by $3 billion of financial support by these two countries to Sudan with an initial deposit of $500 million in cash to be followed by assistance in the form of food, oil and medicine.
The future of relations will depend on how the aftermath of the coup unfolds. The demonstrators and the opposition groups demand control of government be handed over immediately to civilians, while the Transitional Military Council has yet to decide what to do.
Sudan was considered a valuable friend of Iran for several years. Bashir paid several visits to Tehran and held high-level talks with the Iranian rulers. But relations started to deteriorate when Bashir decided to close down the Iranian Cultural Centre in Khartoum in 2014, accusing its employees of preaching Shia Islam while a very big majority of Sudanese are Sunni Muslims. Saudi efforts were the main reason for this shift. This is followed by a swift turn towards Saudi Arabia and Sudan joined the Yemen war on the Saudi side. Diplomatic relations with Iran were cut in 2016.
Iran will probably wait to see the dust settle in Sudan before adopting a clear-cut attitude towards the coup.
Turkey was one of the few countries that maintained friendly relations with the Bashir regime. This was partly due to shared sympathies for the Muslim Brotherhood by the two countries.
Turkey was one of the rare non-Arab countries that Bashir used to visit without fear of being detained due to an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court.
Turkey-Sudan relations gained a new momentum a few years ago.
The two countries signed an agreement in December 2017 to temporarily grant Turkey Suakin Island on the Red Sea cost. The island is 20 square kilometres and accommodates some buildings of historical value dating back to the Ottoman rule of Sudan. During a visit to Sudan, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan volunteered to restore these buildings and Bashir agreed, but there was no tangible progress in the implementation of the agreement except for the restoration of two mosques and an old customs building.
There was also a separate agreement for the lease of agricultural land for investment projects for a period of 99 years. The fate of these agreements will depend on the attitude of the post-military coup government in Sudan.
Another issue connected to Turkish-Sudanese cooperation is the support that these two countries were extending to National Salvation Government (NSG) operating in Tripoli, Libya. The only supporters of this government were Turkey, Qatar and Sudan. With a new government in Sudan, it remains to be seen whether Sudan will maintain its support for the NSG. Otherwise, Turkey and Qatar will become further isolated in the international arena in their support for the NSG.