Sudan’s recent measures to decrease strict Islamic restrictions clearly show the country’s break from a radical form of Islamic ruling associated with the former president Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted in 2019. This article will focus on the relationship between political Islam and extra-regional actors in Sudan, arguing that external influences could negatively affect Sudan’s transition towards a democratic government in the face of increased economic and social pressure.
Islam, the Sudanese Revolution, and External Actors
Although the break from a strict Islamic rule stems from the decades-long political mismanagement by al-Bashir’s Islamist National Congress Party (NCP), it should not be seen as independent of Sudan’s political environment, in which extra-regional powers use an Islamic political narrative to advance their geostrategic interests. As such, Turkey and Qatar are considered backers of political Islam and are associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Sudan’s al-Bashir was an offspring. By contrast, the UAE and Saudi Arabia oppose Islamic political ideologies. These intra-Sunni politics are played out among others in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and Sudan.
During al-Bashir’s 30-year rule, Sudan enjoyed close relationships with Turkey and Qatar. But since the 2010s, his regime moved closer to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, playing the two axes out against each other. When the revolution erupted, the UAE and Saudi Arabia saw their chance to gain a stronger foothold in Sudan, while minimizing the influence of political Islamic ideologies and with it the influence of Turkey and Qatar. The UAE supported generals who could vie for their foreign policy interests, specifically Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (also known as ‘Hemedti’), to solidify their influence, and they injected large sums of capital into the Sudanese economy in support of the civilian government.
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