Why Sudan's conflict makes the Gulf monarchies so nervous
Located on the shore of the Red Sea, rich in natural resources, Sudan is strategically important to the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. Worried about a conflict that is getting bogged down, Arab capitals are mobilizing behind the scenes, with initial "pre-negotiation" talks that began Saturday in the Saudi port city of Jeddah, reports Laura-Maï Gaveriaux in French daily Les Echos.
The war of the Sudanese generals has both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi worried — and there is no sign that the crisis in Sudan will end soon.
On Saturday, Saudi Arabia was hosting the first face-to-face "pre-negotiation talks" between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in the port city of Jeddah, across the Red Sea from the Sudan coast.
The African nation is of strategic importance to the Gulf powers, which are ensuring a diplomatic but also economic presence there. That has increased notably since 2017, after the lifting of the decade-long, U.S.-led embargo on the Islamist regime of Omar al-Bashir accused of supporting international terrorism. Since then, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been investing massively in the country, particularly in infrastructure and agriculture.
With its fertile lands, and a rainy season that benefits at least half of the country, Sudan offers agricultural potential for the countries of the neighboring desert peninsula, which have planned to make it "the breadbasket of the Gulf."
In 2018, Qatar signed an agreement to inject $500 million over three years into the agribusiness sector, alongside another $4 billion for the development of the northeast port of Suakin, destined to become a special economic zone.
In 2020, Sudanese magnate Osama Daoud Abdellatif called on the Emirates to develop activities in the Nile Valley in the north of the country: some 13,000 hectares of circular irrigated fields, meant to double in size by the end of this year, and reach 52,000 hectares by 2025. The investment represents $225 million, financed through a joint venture with the Royal Group fund, owned by Sheikh Tahnoun Ben Zayed Al Nahyan, a high-ranking Abu Dhabi official and national security advisor. At full operational capacity, the profitability of the operation will be based on exports, expected to reach 70% of production.
Here too, the project is based on the deployment of a mega-port, this time by AD Ports Group, the powerful Abu Dhabi operator, in partnership with Invictus Investments, another company owned by Osama Daoud Abdellatif, which operates in agricultural commodities trading from Dubai. A preliminary $6 billion agreement signed in December calls for the development of a container terminal in the north of the country, opposite the Saudi commercial port of Jeddah.
Because of its position on the shores of the Red Sea, at the entrance to the Horn of Africa, Sudan is a hub on the maritime route linking the Suez Canal to the Strait of Oman.
A senior Arab diplomat who requested to remain anonymous said the consequences of the war in Ukraine are also weighing on the situation. "The Arab capitals feel that they have a card to play in the recomposition of the flows of international trade in raw materials," says the envoy.
As for Saudi Arabia, it has injected $3 billion into the Sudan Investment Fund, for projects in the agriculture, energy, water, sanitation, transport and telecommunications sectors.
Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that the many investments announced since 2019 are regularly delayed by political instability and chronic insecurity in Sudan. Since the beginning of the conflict, Riyadh has been cautious in its declarations, investing instead in the field of humanitarian diplomacy with a vast operation of evacuation by sea. Saudi Arabia is also the most active behind the scenes, alongside South Sudan, to promote peace talks between the warring factions.
Ahead of Saturday's talks, both sides said only a humanitarian truce — not a negotiation to end the war — was on the table.
Still, the UAE, no less discreet than the Saudis, is said to be supporting the negotiations, while Egypt, a well-known supporter of General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan’s regular army, has so far not delivered any arms or logistical reinforcements. In great economic difficulty, facing critical food insecurity, Cairo is aligned with its Arab partners to try to contain the conflict.
— Laura-Maï Gaveriaux / Les Echos
• Russia steps up strikes on Ukraine ahead of Victory Day: Russia has launched a series of drone, missile and air strikes on Kyiv, injuring five people, and other Ukrainian cities through the night, escalating attacks ahead of Victory Day, that celebrates Moscow’s defeat of Nazi Germany. Meanwhile, Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said Russian military officials “promised” more ammunition and weapons to continue the fight for Bakhmut, appearing to backtrack on his threat to withdraw from the flashpoint city in eastern Ukraine.
• Texas mall shooting gunman identified: The gunman who opened fire at a crowded mall in Allen, Texas, on Saturday, killing at least eight people and wounding at least seven others, has been identified as Mauricio Garcia, aged 33. Authorities are investigating the man’s motive, with possible far-right links. The latest mass shooting has prompted U.S. President Joe Biden to renew his call on Congress to pass gun control bills. Meanwhile, eight people were killed and nine others injured after a car ran into a group outside a shelter housing migrants in a Texas border town on Sunday, with the cause still being investigated.
• Fighting continues in Sudan amid ongoing ceasefire talks: Battles continue raging in Khartoum as Sudan’s warring sides meet again on Monday in the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah for talks to end the conflict that has left nearly 600 people dead. A Saudi diplomat told AFP that the ceasefire talks that started over the weekend have yielded “no major progress” so far.
• Arab League readmits Syria after 12 years: The Arab League has agreed to reinstate Syria’s membership after the country was suspended in 2011 for its brutal repression of pro-democracy protests that spiraled Syria into civil war. The U.S. and UK have criticized the move, which comes ahead of a summit in Saudi Arabia on May 19, that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may now attend.
• Death toll from Congolese floods surpasses 400: The death toll from floods and landslides in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo has risen to 401. A day of national mourning will be observed on Monday, the government has announced.
• Boat capsizes in south India, at least 22 die: Rescue efforts are underway at the coastal town of Tanur in southern India, after a double-decker tourist boat capsized, killing at least 22 people. The boat was reportedly carrying over 40 passengers — double its capacity.
• “Rock” music, literally: As part of the 2023 Internet2 Community Exchange conference in Atlanta, Georgia, seismic activity recorded at the Yellowstone National Park will be turned into a musical score and played live on stage, thanks to a computer program developed by a British researcher.
Inside Moscow's scheme to kidnap and “Russify” Ukrainian children
In Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine, an estimated 19,000 children have been abducted and put in so-called "filtration camps," Soviet-era-like facilities where they are being "re-educated" in brutal conditions. For Ukrainian online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda, Victoria Roshchyna gets exclusive testimony from several victims who managed to escape.
🇷🇺 Sashko is one of the thousands of children taken to the Russian Federation from the occupied regions of Ukraine under the guise of evacuation and ensuing rehabilitation, to teach them to "love Russia." According to the Office of the Ukrainian Prosecutor General, at least 19,000 minors have been taken to Russia and annexed Crimea since the beginning of the full-scale war. Only 364 have been returned.
🧒 "On New Year's Eve, we had to watch Putin's address, and some of us left the room and started shouting 'Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!" says Taisiya, 16. She says that children who disobeyed their teachers were locked up for several days in an "isolation room." Teenage children mostly resisted Russian propaganda in the camps. However, children of primary school age were more easily influenced.
⚖️ Russia adopted separate legislation specifically for Ukrainian children, with Russian President Vladimir Putin signing two laws: one simplifying the acquisition of Russian citizenship by children and their legal representatives; and one streamlining the procedure for Russians to adopt Ukrainian children. The adoption process in Russia is secretive, meaning finding such children will be de facto impossible.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com