The foreign ministers of Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco met with their US and Israeli counterparts at the Israeli desert retreat of Sde Boker for the first time this week.
According to US statements released before the arrival of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the talks focused on calming Israel’s fears over a new nuclear agreement between Washington and Tehran and potential wheat shortages owing to the war in Ukraine.
The UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco have signed agreements with Israel, the so-called “Abraham Accords,” made during the tenure of former US president Donald Trump. Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.
Sudan has also signed an Abraham Accord with Israel, but it was not present at the Negev meeting. Neither Sudan’s Foreign Ministry nor Israel or the US commented on Khartoum’s absence.
President of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan said in a statement last week that the two-day summit violated the Khartoum Resolution known as “The Three No’s” and meaning no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations with Israel.
The resolution was adopted at the Khartoum Summit of 1968, a year after the defeat of the Arab armies at the hands of Israel in the June 1967 War, called the Naksa, or setback, in Arabic.
However, Sudan earlier violated the Khartoum Resolution to sign the Abraham Accord with Israel.
“No one wants Israel, neither in Sudan or any other country. But desperate times call for desperate measures,” said Al-Shafei Al-Fateh, a professor of economics in Khartoum.
“Sudan accepted the normalisation of relations with Israel in order to have its name removed from the US list of countries harbouring terrorism. This was the price set by the Trump administration,” Al-Fateh added.
Washington put Sudan on its list of state sponsors of terrorism during the tenures of former US presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush, due to the relationship between the regime of former Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir and Al-Qaeda and Al-Bashir’s involvement, according to US claims, in the bombing of the US embassies in the Kenyan capital Nairobi and the Tanzanian capital Dar As-Salam in the late 1990s.
“The Negev meeting was focused on the US nuclear deal with Iran, which is not a topic of interest for Sudan as much as it is for the Gulf,” said Moatassem Hakem, a leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North.
“Sudan cut its ties with Iran before the fall of Al-Bashir and joined the Arab Coalition in the war in Yemen,” he added.
Sudan pushed thousands of its soldiers into the Yemen conflict until it withdrew its military contributions two years ago. “Khartoum has reconsidered many of its stances since the toppling of Al-Bashir,” Hakem added.
He referred to the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Al-Bashir regime and the so-called “Axis of Resistance” comprising Iran, Syria, Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“The Al-Bashir regime was utterly opportunistic. It had strong ties with Tehran and Damascus, on the one hand, and the hardline anti-Shia group Al-Qaeda on the other,” Hakem said.
Al-Bashir and Iranian leaders exchanged visits, and Iran provided Sudan with armaments during the Civil War in Southern Sudan, as well as economic aid and petroleum.
At the same time, Al-Bashir hosted Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Khartoum in the mid-1990s. “Even after the Al-Bashir regime saw the futility of relations with Iran, it maintained its opportunistic approach,” Hakem said.
“Al-Bashir joined the Arab Coalition in the war in Yemen, but he did not sever ties with the Turkish-Qatari alliance. He signed a preliminary agreement with his Turkish counterpart President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to which Ankara would lease the Suakin Island to spite Egypt,” he stated.
“Al-Bashir worked hard to build a strong relationship with Qatar to benefit from its financial capabilities to overcome the economic crises in Sudan, but he did not succeed in doing so. The December 2018 protests [that led to revolution in Sudan] broke out mainly due to the harsh living conditions the Sudanese people were enduring,” he noted.
Ties between Khartoum and Ankara were cemented in the early 2000s with the rise of Erdogan to power. Sudan benefited from Turkish investment, but it could not extend its relationship with the EU countries or the US through Turkey.
The Sudanese civilian and military leadership enjoyed a strong relationship with Egypt and Saudi Arabia and did not choose the Turkish-Qatari alliance, despite Al-Burhan’s recent visit to Ankara where he met with Erdogan.
“Regarding potential shortages of wheat and cooking oil, the Sudanese people will turn to sorghum and millet instead, as well as to sesame oil as a substitute for the sunflower oil that was being imported from Ukraine,” Al-Fateh said.
Millet is plentiful in Upper Egypt and can be used to make flat bread. Sudan has a surplus of millet, “a staple food for Sudanese people from the lower economic classes. Over the past four decades, Sudan’s middle classes have opted more for wheat, but it is safe to say that the Sudanese will get over any wheat shortages,” he added.
Sudan “is not concerned about the meeting” in Negev, according to Al-Fateh, and is more focused on domestic woes, such as rises in the prices of bread, medicine, and fuel.
The relationship between Sudan and Ethiopia is also on edge, causing a security concern for Khartoum. Political tensions between the Sudanese army and those calling for the separation of the Armed Forces from politics have impeded movements outside Sudan’s borders.
The Sudanese currency has recently plummeted due to the rising demand for the dollar. “Probably it is the government that is collecting dollars to import the country’s needs of fuel and medicine,” Al-Fateh suggested.
Mervat Ali, a translation teacher at the Islamic University of Omdurman west of Khartoum, said that “I rely on my relatives travelling to Egypt or Saudi Arabia to bring me the medicines my mother needs, because they are cheaper than in Khartoum. Despite the high prices of these medicines, they are not available in pharmacies.”
“I haven’t bought bread or wheat flour for months due to the soaring prices. The majority of my neighbours depend on sorghum or millet,” she added.
The promised European aid to Sudan has stopped since the fall of the government of former Sudanese prime minister Abdalla Hamdok in October, rendering the economic situation in Sudan worse.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 31 March, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly